Baach To Work – July 2023

With the summer holidays over, it was back to work after another successful season, one I certainly wasn’t expecting.

Successive promotions were a brilliant achievement – but the hard work has been put in on the training ground as we prepare for our first season in the second tier of German football since 2012.

Financial problems still affect us, despite us making significant progress.

For example, the arrival of Bobby Carroll from Brighton and Hove Albion for £25,000 was the first time I have paid a fee for anybody.

Also arriving, but for free, were versatile French full-back Teddy Alloh from PSG and Scottish midfielder Stephen Kelly from Rangers.

A box-to-box midfielder, Stephen has tremendous potential despite only making two appearances for The Gers.

Teddy can play either left or right-back and has joined on a one-year deal with an option for another, reflecting his youth and potential.

There were also departures, with the biggest (and saddest) being the retirement of Hamdi Dahmani.

Despite his advanced years, Hamdi gave me two sensational years as a player at the club and was vital to our successive promotions – including 40 goals in 35 games in the Regionalliga West promotion season (31G, 9A).

Even in his mid-thirties, the step up to the 3 Liga wasn’t difficult for him as he scored twice and set up another eight in 29 games before deciding to hang up his boots.

Thank you, Hamdi, for everything.

Also leaving were Tim-Sebastian Buchheister, Mergim Fejzullahu, Lars Oeßwein, Luka Sirch and Lukas Wilton, with Justin Andrieu (Wegberg-Beeck), Patrick Hein (Hamm), Antonio Ivic (Bergisch Gladbach), Okan Keskin (Energie Cottbus), Daniel Krasucki (Meppen), Dominik Sinanoglu (Bad Vibel) and Nazif Tchadjei (Krieschow) departing on loan deals.

On the pitch, pre-season went well, with us going unbeaten against Magdeburg (4-1 win), Lausanne-Sport (1-0 win), MVV Maastricht (3-0 win) and Wolfsberger AC (1-1 draw).

All of the above brings us to our opening game of 2023-24 2. Bundesliga season – a trip to Hannover 96.

The last time we faced them was back in 2007, during our most recent season in the Bundesliga – that ended in a 4-1 defeat for us.

H96 will also be our opponents in the first round of the DFB Pokal.

Despite the weather being gusty in the capital of Lower Saxony, more than 35,000 fans turned up for the season opener, with 754 travelling from Aachen despite the almost 850km round-trip.

An early attempt to get in behind the home defence was successfully repelled, only for H96 to launch a counter-attack which came to nothing as Sulejmani’s header sailed over the bar and into the stand behind the goal at the HDI Arena.

Hannover threatened again in the 14th minute, but Julian Green’s shot was easily collected by Jannik Mroß between the sticks.

We had our first chance four minutes later, Falcao racing through after some great play between Jannik Mause and Dennis Dressel in the middle of the park led to him being slipped in – but Hannover’s keeper Zentner got down well to stop it.

The deadlock was broken in the 32nd minute – bringing immense joy to the 754 travelling fans.

A Stephen Kelly corner was cleared by the H96 before Christian Gartner kept it alive in the middle of the park some 35 yards from goal before picking out Selim Gunduz with a searching diagonal ball.

The winger took one touch before smashing the ball into the net at the near post.

Falcao bemoaned his luck as he passed up a glorious chance to double the lead in the 57th minute, putting his effort just wide of the post when put through one on one with Zentner by an excellent pass from the goalscorer Gunduz.

A similar chance came the Brazilian forward’s way in the 89th minute after being played in by an impressive Stephen Kelly on his debut.

We deserved at least one more goal, our desire paying off in stoppage time.

Teddy Alloh crossed from inside the penalty area back into the crowded box, finding substitute Basti Schmitt’s head.

That header cannoned off the back of a Hannover defender and into the path of Selim Gunduz to nod home his and our second to seal a memorable return to the second tier for Alemannia Aachen.

Get in!

Join me soon for the next instalment of Kartoffel Kapers, where we will be talking about what happens in August, including:

Hannover in the Pokal
Sandhausen and Osnabrück at home in the league
A tricky trip to Dresden.

Stay tuned, folks!

A Postcard From Scotland – cinch SPFL Round-Up 2022-23

Greetings once again, Dear Reader(s)!

Here’s the final update, if you can really call it that of my 2022-23 season with Alemannia Aachen where I do my best to be Darrell Currie, Ally McCoist and Chris Sutton all at once to look over what happened in Scotland while I managed in Germany.

I hope you enjoy it, this was a bit of a slog to put together.

Please keep reading,

– Marc



cinch Premiership:

After surrendering (fnarr) the league title the previous season, Rangers bounced back to claim the Scottish Premiership by a comfortable nine points from Celtic.

In truth, The Hoops struggled to find form throughout the season and were perhaps fortunate to finish ahead of Hearts.

As mentioned above, Hearts joined the Glasgow giants in Europe for 2023/24, with St. Johnstone and Edinburgh rivals Hibs joining them.

Going down to the Championship were Livingston, deservedly finishing bottom of the pile with only five wins and 26 goals scored all season.

Ross County finished in the playoff spot and crushed Partick Thistle in the final.

A season to forget for Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic side.

After just one season in the second tier, Dundee secured promotion to the Premiership by winning the second tier in a tense title race that went down to the last few weeks of the season.

The Dens Park side won the title by three points from a Partick Thistle side who lost the fewest games in the division, although Thistle will lament the number of draws (15, one more than the number of victories)

A failure to win a single game away from home was a big part of Queen’s Park’s stay in the second tier being as brief as it was.

The Spiders finished five points adrift of second-bottom Ayr United, who eased to safety via the playoffs with victories over Greenock Morton and then Cove Rangers.

2nd place and a Scottish Cup semi-final, knocking out Celtic on the way for Thistle

cinch League One:

Dunfermline Athletic’s stay in League One was a brief one as they won the title by six points from their nearest challengers, Alloa Athletic.

Cove Rangers, who lost out to Falkirk on goal difference last season, had to settle for third place this time and were beaten in the playoffs once again – this time by Ayr United.

Kelty Hearts’ first season in the third tier ended with an impressive sixth-place finish, one point off of fifth and comfortably away from the relegation battle.

Dumbarton finished bottom of the table, winning only five matches all season and they were joined by Stirling Albion, defeated by Montrose in the playoffs.

Glory for The Pars, Misery for The Sons.

cinch League Two:

East Fife, like Dundee in the Championship and Dunfermline in League One, bounced straight back at the first time of asking, winning the fourth tier by seven points.

Once again, Forfar finished comfortably in the playoff places but would lose out to local rivals Montrose in the final.

That playoff triumph for Montrose meant that they joined East Fife in making an instant return to the third tier.

Despite winning just three games and scoring 23 goals all season, Cowdenbeath defied the expectations and the bookies to survive the playoff against Lowland League champions Bo’ness United.

A 2-0 triumph at Central Park was followed by a draw at Newtown Park as The Blue Brazil completed their great escape once again.

A close call for The Blue Brazil

William Hill Scottish Cup:

In a rare occurrence, neither the Scottish Cup nor the League Cup final featured either Celtic or Rangers.

Hibernian took home the famous old trophy, defeating Aberdeen on penalties in a tense Hampden final the finished goalless.

Substitutes Connor Ronan and Junior Hoilett were the villains for The Dons while Hibs overcame a shootout miss of their own from Dion Charles to deny Aberdeen a cup double.

Glory, Glory to the Hibees.

Premier Sports Cup:

The League Cup, as mentioned above, was won by Aberdeen, who saw their double hopes dashed by penalties in the Scottish Cup Final.

Their opponents, in their second consecutive League Cup final, were Hearts and Ross McCrorie’s goal in the 69th minute ensured Aberdeen ended their trophy drought.

Ross McCrorie, the Heartbreak Kid.

SPFL Trust Trophy:

Hamilton Accies stunned Dundee at East End Park to lift the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1993.

Andy Ryan’s goal was enough and it meant that Dundee didn’t follow Inverness’s lead of winning the Championship and the Challenge Cup in the same season.

Andy proves handy.

Scottish Clubs in Europe 2022-23:

Rangers:

Despite the Ibrox side finishing second in the table going into the 2022/23 season, they had the strongest showing on the continent amongst the Scottish qualifiers as they reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, losing out on a place in the quarter-finals on penalties to Valencia.

Anderlecht were beaten 4-2 on aggregate in qualifying before Besiktas fell 3-2 on aggregate to seal a place in the group stage.

Paired with Borussia Dortmund, Lille and West Ham, it was touch and go whether they would even qualify for the Europa League as they lost 3-0 in Dortmund and 4-0 in London.

But home victories over both Dortmund and West Ham were enough to see them sneak into the round of 16, where they lost on penalties to Valencia after a 3-1 defeat at Mestalla that saw them draw 3-3 on aggregate.

More penalty pain in Spain for Rangers.

Celtic:

The 2022-23 campaign can be filed into one big disappointment for Celtic as poor performances domestically continued into their continental pursuits as they exited Europe before Christmas.

A comprehensive 5-1 defeat on aggregate in Champions League qualifying was followed by a last-place finish in a Europa League group that also contained Olympiakos, Napoli and Maccabi Haifa, only picking up one win – against Haifa on the final matchday.


Hibernian:

If Celtic’s campaign was a total failure and Rangers was good, potentially great, then Hibs can only be best described as genuinely great as The Hibees took their fans on a memorable European tour.

Although it did begin with disappointment in the Europa League playoff round, losing 5-3 on aggregate to FC Midtjylland, the Hibees more than made up for that disappointment with a stunning second-place finish in their Europa Conference League group behind Italian heavyweights Lazio before being eliminated in a one-off knockout tie by Russian side Spartak Moscow.

Hibees make history

Hearts:

Like their Edinburgh rivals, Hearts also made it to the group stages of the Europa Conference League, defeating Buducnost of Montenegro before stunning Young Boys by winning 3-0 in Bern to complete a stunning 3-2 aggregate comeback victory.

The group stage saw them paired with eventual winners Feyenoord, Wolfsberger from Austria and Ararat-Armenia from, well, Armenia.

A win in Austria got The Jambos off to a good start before a home defeat to Feyenoord.

A costly draw in Armenia was recovered somewhat with a triumph at Tynecastle over the group minnows but defeat in Rotterdam to Feyenoord and at Tynecastle to Wolfsberger put paid to any hopes of both Edinburgh sides advancing.

Hearts broken.

Aberdeen:

The Dons began their European journey with a tricky tie against Kazakh outfit Tobol, based in Kostanay.

ROAD TRIIIP!

Any worries of travel fatigue, however, were dispelled as The Dons won 2-0 in Kazakhstan with early goals from Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie to complete a 3-0 aggregate win.

That trans-continental triumph earned them a tie with Greek powerhouse PAOK Salonika, but the Dons went down 2-1 in a fiery game in Greece as Lewis Ferguson’s equaliser was cancelled out by Karol Swiderski with 11 minutes left.

Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t overturn the deficit and wound up with a credible 1-1 draw at Pittodrie to bow out 3-2 on aggregate.

The Run-In – April/May 2023

The most important game in the run-in to this suddenly very dramatic end to the season was arguably the first one as we made the trip to Munich to take on the Bayern youngsters.

Although ineligible for promotion beyond the current level they are at, the Bayern kids have been more than alright and have been a cut above all season, coasting to their second title at this level in recent seasons.

Nonetheless, I was bullish and insisted on going into the game with a positive approach, an attacking approach.

After all, our record on the road was far from terrible, it was a decision that proved to be unwise as the hosts showed no signs of being on the beach and dealt a huge blow to our promotion hopes.

As in the reverse fixture at Tivoli, Nemanja Motika was on target, giving the hosts the lead after five minutes when his shot initially struck his own man in the box before it fell kindly for him t score with his second effort in a display of uncharacteristically poor defending from us, Conor Bradley in particular.

The Liverpool loanee was caught ball-watching as they worked the ball into the box through Tillman before the ball found Motika.

The hosts doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, again through a player who had a pivotal role in the reverse fixture as Fiete Arp beat both our centre halves to the ball before rifling in a shot from distance.

In all it was a frighteningly disjointed performance for such an important game at such an important stage of the season, we were second to everything and the runaway champions cantered to victory.

Great start, lads, honestly…

Despite the horror show in Munich, we lived to fight another day when we took on Halle at home due to Saarbrücken inexplicably losing 1-0 away at an already relegated Magdeburg side.

Holstein Kiel also lost, going down 3-2 at Wehen, who we play in the final day so the drama was very much flowing through all three of ourselves, Kiel and Saarbrücken in this fraught bid for promotion.

If it was flowing ahead of the match with Halle, it would be cascading in the 13th minute when the visitors took the lead courtesy of an own goal from Tjorben Uphoff, one of my most dependable players – up until that point, clearly.

It was one that Tjorben could do very little about, really, a corner was whipped in and Manneh’s flick on from that deflected off of Tjorben and into the net beyond Joshua Mroß.

The loss of the first goal, however, was the catalyst that we needed and just four minutes after falling behind we equalised through one of our brightest lights this season, if not the brightest in Jannik Mause.

The graceful poise on the ball of Nikola Iliev picked out Falcao, whose first time into space was met by a first-time shot from Jannik that sailed into the Halle goal.

Five minutes after levelling the scores and we were ahead, Mause once again proved his worth at such an important stage of the season with yet another goal.

Christian Gartner made room in the penalty area for Selim Gunduz to stand it up and Jannik did the rest, powering the ball into the net at the Halle goalie’s near post.

A crucial game that gave us a crucial win, but it also took away – as an injury with 20 minutes left to Selim Gunduz means that our star man on the right will miss the rest of the season.

Elsewhere in the hunt for promotion, Saarbrücken crushed Aue 4-2 while Kiel suffered a shock 2-0 defeat to struggling Verl at home, leaving the run-in like this with two games to go.

TeamPGDPts
Holstein Kiel36+2666
1. FC Saarbrücken36+2166
ALEMANNIA AACHEN36+2763
Nervous? Me? Aye right…

Ahead of our penultimate game of the season, we were rewarded with something of a welcome distraction in the Mittelrheinpokal Final against Fortuna Köln at the Sportpark Nord in Bonn, where we crushed the home side in the semi-finals.

With momentum being everything, the loss of Selim Gunduz for the rest of the season resulted in an untimely reshuffling of the starting 11 as Jannik Mause moved up top and Falcao shunted out to the right wing with Basti Schmitt making a timely return to the left wing.

The first half was nervy with the lower-league Fortuna side managing to frustrate us a bit more than I anticipated, playing a little too much into their clear strategy of trying to contain our free-flowing attack.

It worked for the most part – until the 44th minute when we finally broke the stubborn Fortuna defence through Jannik Mause.

Dennis Dressel was the creator, his raking pass curling its way to Jannik before his curling shot past the Fortuna goalie via the inside of the post.

To get the goal when we did left Fortuna sucking wind and I told them to go out there and be ruthless because if we got another one, we could end up with three or four goals.
We had to wait a little bit, but we got a second in the 67th minute as Nikola Iliev, instrumental at knitting together our attacks from a  creative standpoint, finally got on the scoresheet himself.

Once again, it was the ball over the defence from Dennis Dressel that made it, leaving Nikola to show his excellent close control before a smart finish from inside the box.

With victory in sight, Fortuna became, well, unfortunate as an own goal added a third and the final became a procession if it wasn’t already.

Basti Schmitt put the cross in, where it was sliced into his own net by the unlucky Jannik Löhden.

And the rout – and retention of the cup was completed as the clock wound down, Basti Schmitt marking his return to the side for the run-in by scoring our fourth goal to make it two wins in a row in the Mittelrheinpokal for Alemannia Aachen.

Two in a row!

With the cup retained in emphatic fashion, the focus returned to the league and the nail-biting fight for promotion between ourselves, Holstein Kiel and 1. FC Saarbrücken.

We made the trip to Cologne to face Viktoria while Kiel travelled to face Freiburg II knowing that a win would be enough for second place while Saarbrücken made the journey east to take on Zwickau.
A positive start from us led to a penalty in the 24th minute, Basti Schmitt’s ball into the channel was met by Falcao as he burst into the box and as he did so was taken out by Buballa, there could be no arguments, Falcao got to the ball way before his man and Buballa knew what it was.

Up stepped Jannik Mause who put the ball high into the top right-hand corner of the Viktoria goal and we were off to the races.

It remained that way come half-time, with the other scores around us being:

Freiburg II 0-0 Holstein Kiel

Zwickau 0-2 1. FC Saarbrücken

So it was a case of so far, so good as far as the promotion race was concerned, with it destined to be a shootout between the three of us until the final day.

Hearts were set racing in the early stages of the second half when Nikola Iliev passed up a glorious chance to extend our lead further, bursting into the box after some neat interplay between himself and Basti Schmitt, the Bulgarian saw his effort smothered.

One goal was all we needed in the Domstadt, trying not to focus too much on what happened elsewhere.

That was until I had seen what happened, of course.

The quite frankly improbable turnaround by Zwickau at home to Saarbrücken had meant that, with one game to go, we had leapfrogged Saarbrücken on GOAL DIFFERENCE into the automatic promotion.

Excuse me while I pop out for a smoke…

After nine months and 37 games of unprecedented good momentum, it boils down to this for ourselves and for Saarbrücken.

We were both at home, making any potential heartbreak even worse with us hosting a Wehen side who were comfortable in 14th place but had caused a ruckus when they beat Kiel earlier in the run-in.

It didn’t promise to be straightforward for Saarbrücken as they took on Halle, who came close to putting (another) spanner in our plans earlier on in the run-in as well.

At the end of the day, it was finely poised and someone was going to end up in tears, my mission was simple – ensure that it’s not me and to that end, I ensured that I didn’t want to hear ANYTHING from the Saarbrücken game, turning off all important notifications.

The remit was simple anyway, if we won then they couldn’t catch us.

The first real chance of the game fell to us, a Jannik Mause header was poorly cleared by the visiting defence and we swarmed once again, keen to amend that fact, only for Basti Schmitt’s header to hit the side netting.

While we were once again creating the better chances as the game ticked on, we weren’t taking them and Wehen were showing signs of life on the counter, signs of life that plunged the Tivoli crowd into mourning with ten minutes to go.

Finding space down our left, [name] Goppel hit the byline and crossed for Johannes Wörtz to slam a first-time finish into the back of the net.
You could hear a pin drop, after a herculean effort to get into contention, we were going to fall at the last hurdle.

How could we possibly get up for a playoff with the third-worst side in the second tier off the back of that.

We tried in vain to find an equaliser – but we could not and Wehen left with all three points.

I was utterly sick, we were so close, only to lose the last game and throw it all away, did I mention I was sick already?

Then I looked at the full time scores.

WE’D ONLY GONE AND DONE IT IN THE MOST DRAMATIC WAY POSSIBLE!


The defeat meant that we secured back to back promotions to the second tier on the final day, on goal difference.

Unbelievable.

Having a solid defence paid off, still in disbelief.

I won’t lie, I am way, WAY ahead of schedule with what we’ve done so far, but I am going to take a moment to revel in a genuinely amazing moment.

There’s A Chance? – April 2023

It would be fair to say that my blood pressure was through the roof as we picked March to suddenly stop scoring goals in a season where there was a possibility of stealing automatic promotion for a second consecutive season.

I suppose you could say with justification that at least we remained unbeaten, but we couldn’t afford any sort of slip-ups as we went into April with some huge games in both the league and cup.

There was, after all, a chance of retaining the Mittelrheinpokal as well as reeling in the sides at the top to gain promotion automatically, a lot was at stake.

First up were Magdeburg, rock bottom and staring relegation in the face as they made the trip to Tivoli, hoping to pile on some surprise home misery for us.

The remit was clear, we were to go out and attack our struggling visitors and make a statement with Saarbrücken playing Braunschweig in a match that had the potential to be a banana skin for them.

Predictably, we started aggressively but it took until the 23rd minute for the opening goal to come as Jannik Mause saw his effort slide over the line via the post.

It was an excellent finish to a flowing move that included no fewer than four teammates in the buildup and seemed to suggest that our misfiring days in March were consigned to the past.

But that wasn’t quite the case, a glorious chance was passed up in the 33rd minute to double the lead, Mause was once again involved, intercepting as the visitors attempted to play out from the back.

His raking pass into the box found Falcao but the Brazilian saw his effort expertly saved by the Magdeburg goalkeeper.

The visitors would have their best chance of the game in the last 10 minutes, hitting us on the break, only for Joshua Mroß to dive superbly at the feet of his opponent and deny them an equaliser that would have been very much against the run of play.

Perhaps frustratingly, only one goal in this game in the end, but solace was taken in news filtering through that Saarbrücken had drawn at Braunschweig, allowing us to cut the gap on them to just five points with six league games remaining.

If the mood going into the game against Magdeburg was more relaxed, then our next game away to Erzgebirge Aue was one fraught with nerves and anxiety.

Playing 24 hours after Saarbrücken dropped points for the second consecutive game, a goalless draw at home to Kaiserslautern, a win against an Aue side who were just one point behind us would put us within three points of automatic promotion.

While not quite a must-win game, it was certainly a must-not-lose.

The players showed none of the nerves I had, beginning the game with an attacking verve that put the hosts on the back foot and while Falcao’s header from Selim Gunduz cross sailed into the grateful arms of the Aue goalkeeper, it showed that we meant business in this pivotal match.

It looked like the aggressive early approach had paid dividends too as we had the ball in the net after just six minutes.

A deep cross from Dennis Dressel found Falcao in space after which he volleyed home, but it turns out he was in too much space because he was offside and the joy was short-lived.

It wasn’t all one way though and Joshua Mroß had to be alert to deny Zolinski when he got one-on-one with Joshua after splitting our defence down the middle.

Failure to take that chance or threaten from the resulting two corner kicks would prove to be fatal as after an earlier sighter, Falcao ensured he would get his name on the scoresheet properly.

Firstly, after building from the back, he was played through by Jannik Mause and his rasping shot from the edge of the box crashed against the post.

Not heeding the warning from the disallowed goal or from that, Aue found out that third time’s the charm, a long ball over the top from Selim Gunduz had enough spin on it to hold up in the air to allow Falcao to run clean through before rolling the ball past their advancing ‘keeper and it would remain 1-0 at the interval.
There was little demand for saying too much at the break and just told them to keep up what they were doing and the opportunities would come.

Sure enough, just two minutes into the second half we would almost double our lead as Nikola Iliev’s superb free-kick crashed against the crossbar, denying the wonderkid who was named in the top 50 players aged 19 and under in the world a stunning first goal.

The wait for an expected second goal was over in the 58th minute when Jannik Mause’s cross looked for Falcao but the Brazilian was sent flying in the box by Aue’s Bodzek, there was no doubt in the referee’s mind – PENALTY TO AACHEN.

Their ‘keeper guessed right but Jannik’s spot kick was buried into the bottom corner, away from his despairing dive.

Now, it wouldn’t be Aachen under my stewardship without a bit of drama, and with us seemingly on course for a pivotal victory in the race for promotion, of course we decided to make it interesting and the hosts halved the deficit.

After getting the best of Tjorben Uphoff and working well with Barylla and Zolinski, Babacar Gueye tapped home from inside the penalty area to cap the best move of the game for the home side and revive their chances.

But those chances were extinguished near enough immediately as Falcao grabbed his second goal of the game with a move that started with us taking kick-off from their goal.

The spade work was done on the left, Julian Schwermann, Marco Müller and Jannik Mause occupying the Aue right flank to allow Iliev to float the ball into the channel for Falcao to roll home his second goal via the post to ensure the gap to automatic promotion was cut to just three points, effectively two with our more superior goal difference. Huge.

Aue does it feel?

Following our pivotal victory against Aue,we took to the field against Zwickau at Tivoli brimming with confidence knowing our chances of a top three finish and automatic promotion were very much alive.

The crowd was a modest 8,162 with 185 making the trip from the East and it was those visitors who were nearly the happier in the second minute when former Celtic youth player Barry Hepburn’s shot struck the post in just the second minute.

Hepburn’s close call was the wake-up call the players needed after exerting themselves as they had done in such a pivotal midweek game and any worries that the Tivoli faithful may have had were soothed in the 17th minute when the hero from Wednesday night scored yet again.

Nikola Iliev found Selim Gunduz in the channel before he crossed for Jannik Mause, Johannes Brinkies in the Zwickau goal did well to keep out the effort – only to parry it right to Falcao and the Brazilian made no mistake to open the scoring.

It was a lead that was almost added to on the half-hour mark, but once again Jannik Mause’s header from a Selim Gunduz cross wouldn’t find the net, only the woodwork and it looked like Lady Luck was throwing us something rotten.

But the home fans yearning for a second goal wouldn’t be a long one, just three minutes in fact, Selim Gunduz timing his run inside to perfection to latch onto a cute pass from Iliev to finish and double our league.

That first half salvo was enough for three points as the race for promotion reaches the final stretch and with victories for both Kiel and Saarbrücken as well as ourselves this week, it promises to be a thrilling last few weeks of the season.

Just keep winning.

As we prepared for the Mittelrheinpokal semi-final with Bonn, a fancy graphic landed in my inbox showing the state of play as the season enters the final straight with regards to the hunt for automatic promotion we’ve now found ourselves in.

As you can see, I’ve probably got the most difficult run-in of the contenders.

With the promotion race heating up, the temptation to make wholesale changes for the cup semi-final with Bonn was there but, perhaps against my better judgement, I opted not to and near enough full strength side took to the field for the game with a Bonn side currently sitting 14th in the Regionalliga West.

The gulf in class was apparent from kick-off and two goals in a minute from Falcao ensured we had one foot in the final after a quarter of an hour.

His first was as basic as it gets, a give and go with Selim Gunduz before timing his run into the box to tap home from close range.

That was followed a minute later by him latching onto a long ball forward and flicking the ball beyond the onrushing Birk in the Bonn goal, the home side statuesque as Marco Müller’s thundering ball forward caught them flat-footed.

Also helping himself to a double in the first half was Jannik Mause, his first was similar to Falcao’s second, running onto a curling ball forward, this time from Nikola Iliev before rolling the ball home in the 28th minute.

And the rout was complete in the 43rd minute when Mause cut inside after being set up by Dennis Dressel and curled the ball into the hosts goal.

A total procession in the end, we’ll play Fortuna Köln in a televised final on the 29th of April.

Easy Street.

That’s all for this update, the next one will feature the end to the season – however it pans out.

As always, there will be a special bonus “Postcard” from Scotland to follow the conclusion of the season.

I do hope you’ll join me for what promises to be a thrilling conclusion to the season, up first is our crucial clash with 3. Liga champions, Bayern Munich II.

Drawing Blanks – March 2023

After remaining unbeaten in February, we entered March in a confident mood with some potentially favourable fixtures alongside a couple of very important ones – all of this being done in the continued absence of top-scorer Jannik Mause, the main man still struggling for fitness after his injury.


Our first opponent were fellow shock-troops TSV Steinbach Haiger, promoted from the Regionalliga like ourselves and, also like ourselves, found them comfortably ensconced in the upper reaches of the table.

Despite the home advantage, the impact of not having Jannik back meant that our attack didn’t have the cutting edge we needed for this game, evidenced by both their goalkeeper getting MOTM and the game finishing in a rather disappointing goalless draw.

Firing Blanks.

Hot on the heels of the draw with Steinbach at home was a trip to Eintracht Braunschweig, who were looking to complete a league double over us after convincingly beating us at Tivoli earlier in the season.

The biggest boost for us was that Jannik Mause made his long-awaited return to the side, slotting into his preferred role as an Inside Forward on the left wing.

Mause’s influence upon his return was felt pretty much from the first whistle as his trickery on the wing and vision allowed him to break into the box and tee up an effort for Dennis Dressel that smashed against the inside of the post before going out for a goal kick.

The hosts created a couple of clear cut chances of their own through their full-backs, but they weren’t able to hit the back of our net and for the second game in succession, we drew a blank.

The match with Saarbrücken, an utterly crucial one if we were to reel in the top three* for a chance at automatic promotion, is a crucial one, and having two goalless draws and a star attacker battling to shake off rust is certainly not ideal heading into it.
Nevertheless, we were at home and the Tivoli crowd has seen more ups than downs this season in terms of attacking performances – even though five of our six league defeats have come on our own patch.

And concerns we were about to add another L to the column were there early doors as the visitors struck the woodwork from a corner after just seven minutes before Marco Müller cleared the danger.

Müller was once again the man to thank four minutes later when his timely flick of his boot ensured that Gnaase’s shot was deflected away from goal when it looked certain that the away side were going to score.

The visitors could be forgiven for thinking that our goal was living a charmed life as a curling shot from Jacob beat Joshua Mroß all ends up – only for the effort to strike the post and our (relieved) goalie was able to collect the ball.

Just shy of the half hour mark, it was our turn to threaten but good work by Falcao to play in Selim Gunduz was undone by smart defending from the visitors as the Brazilian’s cute reverse pass was intercepted just before Selim could get a shot away.

The hour mark passed and once again, the visitors were close to opening the scoring, Gnaase with a speculative flick volley that sailed harmlessly wide of goal, but Joshua Mroß wasn’t to know that.

In the 77th minute, after taking a fair battering, we withdrew Falcao for Jannik Mause in the hope that he could inspire us in the final quarter of an hour.

Within five minutes of his introduction, he did what all star men do and made the difference, latching onto a long ball forward from Dennis Dressel against a tiring Saarbrücken defence he took one touch to steady himself before rifling home into the top left-hand corner of the goal.

Just three minutes later and we doubled the lead when the provider for the first goal, Dennis Dressel got in on the act.

Played in by first goalscorer Mause, he dribbled on before coolly slotting home into the bottom-left hand corner from the edge of the box, it was lift off at Tivoli in such a pivotal game!

After that burst, the visitors were clearly floored and we even had time to add a third against our shellshocked opponents, Jannik Mause capping a stunning return to form off the bench with a second goal of the game.

Turning two Saarbrücken defenders, he latched onto Julian Schwermann’s pass before smashing the ball into the bottom-right corner.

Perhaps we might get more than the playoff after all…

Late Show.

Months ago, the prospect of facing Duisburg to close out March after a big win to reel in the automatic promotion contenders seemed mouthwatering, but things have changed and the hosts came into the game on a long unbeaten run that had propelled them from near-certainties for relegation to relative safety.

It was certainly a game to approach with a degree of caution despite the fact we’d broken our duck of not scoring in the previous game, a statement victory that gave us cause to believe we can challenge for automatic promotion to the second tier to go along with a strong away record.

In the end the hosts created more clear cut chances, while we had come the closest to scoring and thus it was rather fitting that, like the other games before the Saarbrücken one, ended goalless.

A month of not conceding, albeit with three goalless draws mean we’re sitting fairly pretty with a lot of teams behind us hoping we slip up.

We play Aue (A) and Zwickau (H) in April, two huge matches that will certainly determine how the season shakes out, there’s also a possiblity (probability) that Bayern II will have won the league by the time we face them and any points there could be crucial too.

Also, next month we have our Mittelrheinpokal semi-final, making the trip to the West German capital to take on a Bonn side who gave us some bother in the league last season.

Until next time, folks!


Marc

On The Road – February 2023

With four of our six games in January being at home, the shoe was on the other foot in February with three out of five games in league and cup being away from Tivoli.

The transfer window was closed and still smarting from our surprise defeat at the hands of Freiburg II at the end of January, we took to the Tivoli pitch to face a Holstein Kiel side who we were hoping to catch up with in the hopes of a stunning second consecutive promotion.

It turned out that we still have a bit of work to do in terms of being a contender at the top of this division, as the visitors had the better of the game, evidenced by our best players being our back four and goalkeeper, Joshua Mroß.

The game ended goalless, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it shows that our position in the upper reaches of the table is a touch fortunate.

After two games without a goal and our form seemingly wobbling in our second month back, we travelled to Bavaria to take on a Würzburger Kickers side who inflicted a painful defeat on us at Tivoli earlier on in the season.

Similarly to the previous game against Kiel, it was a case of us riding our luck a bit, the hosts having more to offer in terms of volume but maybe not quality in front of goal, evidenced by their xG being below 1 – but only just.

However, our luck would prove to be in when Falcao netted with the game’s only clear cut chance in the 70th minute.

The delightful dink over the home goalkeeper after an expert long pass from Nikola Iliev was enough for all three points and a welcome break from two games of real drudgery and self doubt.

A pleasant but brief departure followed as we made the trip to Wegberg-Beeck in the latest tie in our bid to retain the Mittelrheinpokal.

Though we were undefeated in the two league matches we played against them last season, I was hesitant to field a drastically weakened team, as we had been fortunate to draw in our last meeting, despite the fact that we were well on our way to winning the Regionalliga West by then.
Any suggestion of an upset was very quickly swept away as we raced into a three goal lead very early on, Falcao getting the ball rolling with a sweeping finish into the bottom right corner after being teed up by Silas Andersen.

Goalscorer turned provider in the 17th minute when Falcao set up Jannik Mause for an emphatic finish to double the lead, which was almost immediately added to through Selim Gunduz moments later.

Sparing Falcao’s blushes after he fluffed a shot with the goal gaping, he tapped home to make it 3-0.

The hosts would grab a goal back before the interval through Meik Kühnel, but the three goal advantage would return when Jannik Mause threaded the ball through for Falcao to emphatically blast home.

As he did in the last meeting between the sides, Jonathan Benteke got the last goal of the game for the hosts but we advance to the semi-finals fairly comfortably and boosted by the news that Viktoria Köln were shocked in their quarter-final by Freialdenhoven, boosting our chances of retaining the trophy.

Our third in a row, and final away game of the month was a trip to Jena to take on a side looking extremely likely to be relegated this season.

We had beaten them 1-0 in the reverse fixture at Tivoli at the end of August and were hopeful of a victory to continue our unbeaten run.

Basti Schmitt came into the side after impressing in training, he replaced Lars Oeßwein, who had been playing okay but not terribly – and little did I know it would prove to be a pivotal choice.

Just six minutes were on the clock when Basti, with his back to goal initially, brought the ball down from a Marco Müller long ball before lashing it beyond the hapless Jena ‘keeper.

And just before the half hour mark, he was at it again when he rose gracefully to plant the ball home with a stunning header from an inch-perfect Falcao cross.

Jubilant with how we were playing at the break against one of the league’s strugglers, I told them they were doing brilliantly, wouldn’t you?

How did they repay my effusive praise? By conceding a penalty in the first minute of the second half.

René Lange stepped up but saw his effort well saved by the totemic Joshua Mroß.

A comprehensive win was secured, despite that minor hiccup, with nine minutes left as Falcao followed up his assist with a goal, a scuffed shot that rolled in along the soaking pitch and kissed the inside of the post on its way in.

We finished February with a televised home game against a Kaiserslautern side who had started the season strongly but had faded and found themselves in 10th place.

Despite that, a win for the visitors would cut the gap between them and ourselves to just six points despite our seemingly lofty position of fourth, which stood to be in peril after Eintracht Braunschweig drew level on points with us following a 3-0 win at home to Türkgücü Munich the day before.

There were incentives for us as well, a win would allow us to cut the gap on Holstein Kiel in third to a not-improbable seven points after they surprisingly drew 2-2 at struggling Duisburg.

Much like the first game, we were on the back foot with Kaiserslautern dictating the early stages of the game.

That was until the 23rd minute when the visitors spectacularly shot themselves in the foot and gifted us the lead with an own goal.

Marco Müller’s cross was short and headed harmlessly out of play until Philipp Hercher stooped to head the ball, meeting it too hard and looking on in horror as the ball flew past his own goalkeeper.

Despite taking the lead, we were still struggling for a foothold in the game and let the players know they needed to be much better in the second half or risk being caught out like we have in previous games at home this season.

The teamtalk seemed to work, the players got their foot on the ball and were in the midst of having their best spell of the entire game when Kaiserslautern equalised.

Rene Klingenburg grabbed it with a delightful dink over Mroß to earn what was a merited share of the spoils, but nonetheless, it was disappointing to lose a goal when we were in our best spell of the game.

As can be seen below, a hectic month spent mostly on the road leaves us sitting in 4th place with the sides vying for automatic promotion beginning to pull away now as we cling onto that playoff spot.

But, as can be seen, we’re not guaranteed anything and there is a bit of a logjam behind us, a bad run of form at any point could derail everything.


Until next time,


Marc

Curate’s Egg All Over My Face – January 2023

There’s plenty to like about January, once you get past the first week and a bit, at least.

Life returns to normal after the vexing situation of festive opening and closing hours for business, the weather is cold, but not cold.

In some ways, to me at least, an almost enjoyable cold, the kind that does pretty things to the skies, turning it those lovely wintry shades of orange and pink depending on the time of day, but the best thing about January in Germany – the football is back after that brief festive hiatus.

In the time away, the World Cup had been decided, The Netherlands triumphing against Italy by three goals to two in an enthralling finale, and I had even made the trip over to Scotland to catch my beloved Partick Thistle secure two big victories in the league and one in the cup.

Thus, the mood coming back to Aachen was positive, we had finished the year in the much-unexpected position of fifth place, way above where the bookies had us finishing owing to our financial constraints affecting our recruitment.

To get back into the swing of things, I arranged two friendlies at Tivoli against perennial Champions League qualifiers, CFR Cluj from Romania and the Austrian upstarts, Wolfsberger AC.

One win and one loss were recorded, with the win coming somewhat unexpectedly against the Romanian side.

Jannik Mause and Hamdi Dahmani got a goal in each half, with the visitors having a man sent off in the 51st minute between our two goals. Billel Omrani got the consolation for the Romanian champions.

Wolfsberger beat us 2-1 despite us taking an early lead through youth prospect Tim-Sebastian Buchheister.

His fifth-minute strike had us hoping for two wins out of two in our mid-season friendlies ahead of facing Wehen to restart the league season, but it was not to be.

Eliel Peretz (‘8) and Mario Leitgeb (‘49) hit back for the visitors to give us food for thought ahead of the league resumption.

Our first game back after the mid-season break was a trip to Hesse to take on SV Wehen Wiesbaden at the BRITA-Arena.

Three points were essential to put the aberration of that pre-Christmas defeat at home to Viktoria Köln behind us.

Our chances of doing exactly that were given a boost somewhat early on as Thijmen Goppel had to hobble off for the hosts after four minutes.

In the ninth minute, it was the hosts who threatened first as Würtz burst through our defence only to be denied by a fine save from Joshua Mroß at the feet of the Wehen striker.

And the hosts were bemoaning their luck once again in the 37th minute as a Carstens header back across goal found Nilsson in space and when it looked easier to score, he saw his header rebound off the post before being scrambled away.

The mood was a little uneasy in our dressing room at the interval but I made a point of telling them that they were capable of getting a goal to change the way the game seemed to be going.

I was keen to avoid a repeat of the Halle game where we were a bit lost and allowed the home side to lay siege to our goal.

And sure enough, within ten minutes of the restart, we had the lead as Hamdi Dahmani rolled back the year(s) to finally score in the league this season.

Selim Gunduz was fouled on the corner of the penalty area after taking the ball down from a Julian Schwermann throw-in, the angle was tight but with Hamdi Dahmani, nothing feels impossible and his curling free-kick hit the back of the net.

The victory was secured with a minute left of normal time as we swept forward in our usual style, Jannik Mause combined with Hamdi Dahmani before he fed the ball to Christian Gartner and the Austrian teed up Mergim Fejzullahu for a stunning strike from distance into the top corner to make it a winning return to league business.


The other really good thing about January is, of course, the opening of the transfer window and there were a couple of areas I was keen to add depth to – and thanks to the generosity of Inter Milan – I was able to do so with the acquisition of Silas Andersen and Nikola Iliev.

Silas is an 18-year-old defensive midfielder from Denmark who can also play further up as a conventional central midfielder and has already made four appearances for the Nerazzurri in Serie A this season.

He will wear the number four shirt for the remainder of the season.

Also 18, Nikola is a Bulgarian attacker who is naturally a striker, but can play further back as a number ten while also being capable of, but not being naturally flawless, out wide also.

He will wear the number 25 shirt for the remainder of this season.

With those arrivals, there were also departures as Luka Wilton departed on loan to Homburg and Okan Keskin left on loan for FSV Frankfurt.

Youngsters Nazif Tchadjei (Wiesbech), Serhat Türkmen and Vleron Statovci (Both to Erndtebrück) also went out on loan, while Oluwabori Falaye sealed a pre-contract move back to Canada to play in the Premier League there, ending his time as a senior squad member with immediate effect.

Both of the new boys were in the squad as we faced Türkgücü Munich at Tivoli, hoping to go one better after the draw in Bavaria earlier in the season.
As it turned out, the visitors found themselves with a 2-0 lead at the interval courtesy of two goals in as many minutes as the first half wound down as memories of other wretched home performances this season came back to haunt us.

It almost started so well as Falcao burst through the visitor’s defence and saw his shot beat the goalkeeper, but strike the post and ultimately be cleared.

The first goal for the visitors was poor to concede, unable to win the ball in the middle of the park before it was zipped out wide and Petar Sliskovic made no mistake with a close-range header to send the 19 visiting supporters in Tivoli wild.

Two minutes later and they were thinking they had won the lottery as they doubled their lead.

Once again, we were slack on the right flank, allowing the ball to be put in across the penalty area for a second effort from inside the six-yard box to nestle in the back of our net.

The hairdryer came out and their ears went up after being read the riot act, immediately resulting in a much better performance in the second half as we sought to get back in the game.

Eventually, in the 69th minute, we got a goal back as one of the new boys’ talent shone through.

Initially started by a throw-in from Marco Müller, the ball found its way to Nikola Iliev out on the wing, he shrugged off the challenge of Türpitz before sliding the ball to the overlapping Jannik Mause to smash the ball into the top corner.

From that point, there was a noticeable decline in the visitors and we smelt blood – but would we have time to grab an equaliser in what was an exhausting spectacle?

Thankfully, we did, and 11 minutes after scoring our first, we grabbed a deserved equaliser.

Once again, Iliev was at the heart of it, his pass finding Falcao, who in turn saw the run of Hamdi Dahmani to play him in and grab a crucial goal to earn a share of the spoils in an entertaining if frustrating evening.

Another daft number of points dropped at home.

Three days after our salvage job against Türkgücü Munich, we returned to action at Tivoli to take on SC Verl, who were hoping to capitalise on our patchy home form and create a cushion for themselves at the bottom of the table.

The visitors sat perilously one point and one place above the drop zone to the Regionalligen and were beaten 3-1 by us in our first win at this level back in July.

Any suggestion of a closely fought contest like the game against ™, however, was blown out of the water after 11 minutes of action.

Dennis Dressel’s pass with the outside of his left boot took out a sizeable part of the Verl defensive shape, this set up Jannik Mause, who cut it back across the penalty area for Selim Gunduz to open the scoring.

Five minutes passed and it was 2-0, Gunduz’s expertise on the right flank saw him drive to the byline before combining with Julian Schwermann and Christian Gartner before Selim teed up Falcao for a tap-in.

Two became three after half an hour when Gartner’s ball into space allowed Dennis Dressel to run onto the ball and smash a stunning first-time effort into the back of the net from 25 yards out.

36 minutes on the clock and it was 4-0, Nikola Iliev’s free-kick from deep caught the Verl defenders flat-footed and Alexander Heinze ghosted in to volley home from inside the penalty area.

4-0 at the break and positively cruising, what do you say to your players after that? I didn’t say anything, I just let them immerse themselves in their own brilliance.

My insistence on saying nothing clearly paid dividends, as seconds into the second half, we won a penalty.

Jannik Mause stepped up and converted to make it 5-0 and at this point, I thought anything was possible.

Enter our inconceivable ability to give away soft goals, plural, as we allowed Verl two goals in a minute to make the scoreline look marginally less than the scudding it looked like.

There was still time for one more goal for us though, Marco Müller bursting through on an overlapping run completed the rout with a smart finish from a tight angle after being spotted making the move by the magical Christian Gartner.

Rampant.

We finished January with a visit to Freiburg II, who we handily beat 5-1 in an early show of our unexpected strength.

While we were sitting pretty, we knew that to maintain our grip on the playoff position we occupied and to potentially push for automatic promotion to the second tier, avoiding a slip-up at the scenic Schwarzwaldstadion was imperative.

Thus, it came as a shock to nobody, when the hosts took the lead in the second minute when Noah Weißhaupt crashed a stunning volley in off the crossbar.

Despite dominating the remaining 88 minutes of action, having the ball for 61% of the time and having almost twice as many shots on target as the hosts had goals, Freiburg II clung on for a priceless win to dent our promotion aspirations.

Bitterly disappointing, given how we mauled them at the start of the season and coming into this game off the back of scoring eight goals in our last two games.

But it is still only our second defeat on the road this season in 12 league games, we just need to make sure it never happens again.

Consider this a dropped bollock.

That mishmash of results this month leaves the 3. Liga table looking like this going into February of 2023.

In a good position, but could be so much better off.

Halbzeitgeist – December 2022

By the time we kicked off in December, the World Cup was reaching the quarter-final stage, our Mittelrheinpokal clash with Siegburg taking place between the last of the ties in the round of 16 and the quarter-finals kicking off.

Buoyed by watching Denmark eliminate England from the World Cup on penalties, I opted to rotate things for this cup clash with our lower league opponents to give some of the fringe players and youth prospects a chance to impress.

One of the main players getting a chance to impress with his first start of the season was young midfielder Okan Keskin, partnering with Dennis Dressel in the middle of the park.

And the youngster made the most of his first start, combining well with Dennis Dressel and then Falcao to blast home an emphatic first senior goal with a little help from the crossbar.

It set the tone for a dominant, if slightly wasteful performance as, for all the chances created, we didn’t find a second goal until the 33rd minute, that coming from a much more familiar name on the scoresheet in Jannik Mause.

The runaway top-scorer and clear candidate for player of the year followed up like any good striker should after Alexander Heinze’s header was parried by the Siegburg goalkeeper.

Knowing what we have been like for not putting some opponents out of sight with our occasionally profligate attack, it was mildly concerning that the next goal in the contest went to the hosts, Jonas Tepper bringing the home side back into the game – until all hell broke loose.

It started in the 72nd minute when Andi Seferi saw red for the hosts for a petulant tackle on Dennis Dressel that you’d scarcely make having not been booked, never mind actually on a yellow card.

Making our advantage count, we added a third when Selim Gunduz’s driving run down the right and cross into the area was powered home by the head of Falcao.

And it descended into farce soon after as the hosts had a second man sent off as Kevin Rubaszewski saw red for a second booking after barging down Jannik Mause in the penalty area.

Jannik stepped up to the spot and made no mistake to grab his second of the night and our fourth to set up a clash with FC Wegberg-Beeck in the quarter-finals.

4-1 going on 5 or 6.


After our victory in the cup, we finished up 2022 with two home games before finishing up for the mid-season break to take us into January.

The first of them came against Viktoria Köln, who we defeated in the Mittelrheinpokal final last May to complete a league and cup double.

How things change in a few months with the visitors badly needing points in a battle for survival as we look to remain comfortably in the upper reaches of the middle of the league.

I was expecting a tough match against Viktoria, having seen how we faired in our draw with Halle as we seemed incapable of handling teams who want to make it a scrap at all well, something that showed when the visitors took a 10th-minute lead at Tivoli.

Timmy Thiele spent one season in England, scoring one goal for Burton Albion in 26 matches and none in a four-game spell on loan at Rochdale, but his record in Germany is impressive, having hit double figures at this level with both Viktoria and also fallen giants Kaiserslautern – and he was on hand here to slot beyond Jannik Mroß after good work on the wing Federico Palacios.

Clearly shellshocked by the opposition’s sucker-punch, I urged the boys on from the sidelines, demanding more from them, a lot more, something that bore fruit in the 37th minute when we found a deserved equaliser against the strugglers.

With his back to goal, Falcao found space and spotted the run of Selim Gunduz and the latter smashed the ball into the net.

Once again though, we regressed, with our attacking being nowhere near potent enough for the chances we were creating – and the mood around Tivoli darkened in the 68th minute when Jannik Mause went down with an injury to his hamstring.

That seemed to really affect the players, seeing a key man be stretchered off, and it was a clear factor, regardless of how acceptable you can call it, mind, in the visitors stealing the three points in the 89th minute.

Palacios, whom I mentioned early for his work out wide for the opening goal by Thiele, got the better of Schwermann after a long, hopeful punt up the park from Stritzel in the Viktoria goal before running in and finishing from a tight angle to hand the struggling visitors a vital three points.

Smash and grab.


Heading into our final match of 2022 against Borussia Dortmund II, I got news that meant you could have heard my sigh of relief for miles around, that Jannik Mause had not suffered a serious hamstring injury and that he only felt it was a little tight.

The news that Jannik would be able to play against Dortmund II was an immense relief as we looked to bounce back after our dismal reverse in our last game, also at home.

We almost got off to a dream start when a deep cross from Schwermann found Jannik Mause, whose volley from a tight angle had Marwin Hitz in the Dortmund goal beaten all ends up – but not the crossbar, which shook from the impact.

Mause’s persistence was key once again in the 19th minute when his drive kept alive a move that began with him slipping in Hamdi Dahmani, who found his way to goal blocked amid some feint shouts for a penalty.

Keeping the move going, Mause crossed for Selim Gunduz, who saw his header tipped onto the bar and over by the excellent Hitz.

After soaking up a lot of our pressure, the visitors almost had the lead in the dying embers of the first half as Bornemann and Onni Valakari combined to set up Marcel Ruiz, only for him to have his effort smothered by Joshua Mroß and then cleared away by Tjorben Uphoff.

Looking very much the better side sans one minor lapse at the end of the half, I told them to go out and keep doing what they were doing because Marwin Hitz couldn’t keep all of our efforts out if we keep trying, that effort paid off after 11 minutes of the second half.

A Hamdi Dahmani corner was poorly cleared and possession was won back, with Christian Gartner spotting the far post run of the aged, but still capable Dahmani – who squared the ball to Falcao for a well-deserved opener.

And a dominant performance was capped off with nine minutes left when Falcao’s stunning chip over a stranded Marwin Hitz struck the post and with the former Swiss international ‘keeper left flat-footed, Basti Schmitt was on hand to power home a second goal that goes a long way to healing any wounds from the defeat to Viktoria in the previous outing.

Much better.

With the season now at the halfway mark (for us, some clubs have played 20 games) and the winter/mid-season break upon us, this is what the league table looks like going into 2023.

Still clinging to that playoff spot, but it’s tight.

Zwick Off The Mark – November 2022

With the World Cup in Qatar approaching, fixtures are becoming few and far between ahead of the opening matches of the tournament on the 21st of November, with only six fixtures this month and in December before the winter break until the middle of January.

Our first opponents this month were FSV Zwickau, one of the heavyweight club sides of former East Germany.

The first post-war champions of East Germany and once winners of the Oberliga, the East German top-flight, Zwickau also boast three East German Cup victories in 1963, 1967 and 1975.

That last victory saw them embark on a memorable run to the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup the following season – defeating Celtic on the way in the quarter-finals.

No mean feat, given Celtic had reached the European Cup final in 1970 and won it three years before that.

The Scottish Press derided Celtic for losing to “negative” Zwickau in 1976

Life since German reunification has seen the club hit lows, twice dropping to the fifth tier in 2006 and 2008 before undergoing a resurgence that saw them climb to the fourth tier in 2012 and now to the third in 2017.


Despite a strong 7th place finish last season and home advantage, Zwickau were underdogs, sitting 14th in the league but with enough ahead of the sides in the drop zone that they are not in immediate danger of relegation.

With momentum on our side, we came out flying and for the fifth game in a row (all competitions) – we scored in the first ten minutes of a game.

Just two minutes of action had passed when Alexander Heinze climbed like a salmon to bullet a header home from a Hamdi Dahmani free-kick out wide.

Keen to get back on terms from such an early blow, the hosts poured forward in the driving East German rain to find an equaliser, only to find Joshua Mroß in inspired form, diverting a shot behind for a corner kick that ultimately came to nothing.

Constant vigilance and pressure led to us doubling our lead midway through the first period as Selim Gunduz’s cross into the box was turned into his own net by a most unfortunate Davy Frick.

The first half had started frantically, with an early goal dictating the way things would go for the rest of the match – and the second started with the same as both ourselves and the hosts found the net in an explosive start to the second period.

First to arrive was our third goal, an attempted ball out to a Zwickau winger was headed away by goalscorer Alexander Heinze, this found Jannik Mause who then released Falcao on the break and the Brazilian squared unselfishly for Dennis Dressel to emphatically blast into the bottom corner.

And immediately from kickoff, the hosts grabbed what was ultimately a consolation through Maurice Litka.

It was a stunning strike from distance, curling the ball high beyond Mroß from 30 yards.

November was off to a brilliant start ahead of a crucial next game.

The biggest game of the month followed hot on the heels of the Zwickau victory as we hosted Bayern Munich II at Tivoli in a televised Friday night encounter.

Preparations for this were thrown into chaos when Tjorben Uphoff was almost ruled out with an injury but, thankfully, he was passed fit.

Due to the stringent rules in place for Reserve sides, Bayern II cannot be promoted to the second tier and the early pacesetters showed why Bayern’s embarrassment of riches has them soaring at the top of the league.

The visitors had eight shots on target out of 13, compared to our two from nine and had an xG of 2.32 to our 0.91.

With three clear-cut chances to our none, we were most fortunate that it only finished 2-0 to the Bayern youngsters, with Armindo Sieb being our tormentor in chief, assisting both goals.

Fiete Arp opened the scoring for the hosts in the 22md minute, tapping in from the edge of the six-yard box following a cutback from Sieb.

And it was a near-identical goal for number two, once again Sieb escaped the challenges of our defenders to tee up Nemanja Motika.

The game was soured by the loss of Malik Tillman for the visitors with a serious injury, but we were taught a serious lesson.

Bitterly disappointing.

Our November calendar concluded with the 2022 World Cup just days away as we visited Halle in a match that was difficult to read.

The hosts had recently dismissed their manager, Fabian Schnorrenberg, and appointed the former Hearts manager Daniel Stendel as his replacement.

Stendel, whose time at Hearts could be filed under well-meaning, but dramatically short of the standard required, had started strongly with his new charges.

Halle came into the game against us with two wins and a draw in his first three matches in all competitions and changing the mood fairly dramatically.

What followed was an intriguing battle between us, keen to put the way were easily beaten by Bayern II behind us and Halle hoping to keep the upward momentum going under their new manager.

Both goalkeepers were on top, Joshua Mroß and his opposite number Philipp Heerwagen were the game’s best players as both sides battled in a game where one goal was likely to be enough for the three points.

The best effort of the game, however, went the way of the hosts as a free-kick out wide found the head of Luka Stor, only for his header to hit the post before being scrambled away.

Having said that, Falcao will not look back n this game fondly, as he was put through one on one with Heerwagen in the 80th minute and hit the ball straight at the Halle goalkeeper.

That effort summed up our efforts as a whole and a goalless draw was probably the right result, though we could easily have been on the end of a good or bad result on another day, as evidenced by the hosts hitting the bar in the 85th minute after hitting the post earlier on.

With November now consigned to the history books, that month of action leaves us clinging on in fifth place, still good enough for a playoff place with Bayern and Dortmund II still up at the top of the table.

Cat And Mause – October 2022

After September ended on a sour note with a bruising defeat at home to Braunschweig, the onus was on us to regroup when we took to the field for our first game in October away to Saarbrücken.

The hosts have had something of a checkered past, having at one stage been exiled to France as part of the post-WW2 occupation and even competing in the first-ever European Cup in the 1955/56 season as champions of the short-lived independent nation of Saarland.

They were last in the second tier in Germany in 2005/06, which was the season that Alemannia won promotion to the Bundesliga for the most recent time, both ourselves and Saarbrücken have had a few more downs than ups lately, so it was no surprise that this meeting would end up being one with plenty of drama.

Still, without Christian Gartner, Dino Bajric continued in the middle of the park, but any suggestion that the influential Austrian would lead to a continued downturn were somewhat wide of the mark when, after a bright start, we took the lead in the third minute through yet another strike from Falcao.

Bajric’s pass through the middle found Falcao, where he unleashed a stunning strike from fully 30 yards into the top corner to silence the home crowd.

After taking the lead and having the majority of the chances, indeed, the only clear cut chance of the game, we dropped off dramatically.

The hosts clearly sussed that we could be got at, similar to how we were picked apart at home last week – and they found an equaliser with 15 minutes to go through Sebastian Jacob.

A quickly taken kick out from our own corner by their ‘keeper left us flat-footed as they raced down the right flank where Eren Dinkci’s effort was blocked, but back they came down the opposite side then back to the right-winger where he crossed for Jacob in acres of space to head home.

Buoyed by their equaliser, and our profligacy, it seemed like the game would only go one way and we would see it out in haphazard fashion.

That was until the third minute of stoppage time when we followed one demoralising defeat with another one.

A throw-in wasn’t adequately cleared and the cross in was overhit, leading to the players leaving in embarrassing fashion where Scheu rescued it and crossed for Tobias Jänicke volleyed home.

Saarbrütal.

A timely international break after two poor results allowed us to have a look at what we were doing and have a look at free agents who could possibly come in and add a bit more quality.

This led to the signing of central midfielder Dennis Dressel, former of FC St. Pauli on a deal until the end of the season with an option to extend further if need be.

Dennis hasn’t played much so far this season, but he did manage five assists in 22 games for FCSP in the 2. Bundesliga during 2021/22 so there is a lot of hope behind him filling in any potential gap Christian Gartner may leave in that position through both his current injury and any transfer interest.

After impressing in training during the international break, an international break that saw Scotland lose 3-0 to Albania, by the way, he was given a start in our next league match at home to the struggling MSV Duisburg.

The first-ever Bundesliga runners-up sacked their manager after their most recent league encounter, a 1-0 defeat at home to Carl-Zeiss Jena and were in the process of appointing former German international hero Torsten Frings as manager, thus the team at Tivoli was being taken by Celtic icon Marvin Compper.

Watching on from the stands, Frings was given an idea of how much of an uphill struggle it could prove to be for him as we came out flying, keen to banish the memories of those two horrific defeats.

Just three minutes were on the clock when Falcao threaded the ball through to Hamdi Dahmani, who looked up and slid in Jannik Mause, who took one touch before sweeping the ball into the back of the net.

Mause would prove to be too hot to handle for the visitors and with a quarter of an hour played, he doubled his tally and our lead.

Once again, he was played in by an intricate Hamdi Dahmani through the ball before smashing the ball low and hard into the bottom right-hand corner of the Duisburg goal.

Old habits proved hard to kill off and despite having the lion’s share of the ball and the chances early on, the visitors halved the deficit soon after we made it 2-0.

Aziz Bouhaddouz showed great strength to hold off three of our defenders before finishing with aplomb from outside the box.

Concerns from the two previous games came back to haunt, but Jannik Mause was on hand to ensure there would be no third consecutive collapse as he completed his hat-trick with three minutes of the first half remaining.

After getting up highest on the edge of the six-yard box for a Marco Müller cross, he drove the ball home for his treble.

And Mause wasn’t done with his victims there, as in the early stages of the second half he added his – and our – fourth.

Latching on to a searching pass from Julian Schwermann, Jannik timed the run to perfection and finished down a tightening left channel.

A much-needed reaction to two bad results, while Torsten Frings has his work cut out.

An Absolute Duing.

Two games into October and we had been at the extreme ends of the metrics with the collapse against Saarbrücken and then comprehensively defeating Duisburg, it was no surprise that our trip to Magdeburg posed a lot of questions.

Sitting second bottom of the league with one win all season so far, it was a match we approached with caution, especially given our penchant for dominating games and suddenly losing cheap goals.

The good news for this one, though, was the return from injury of Christian Gartner, slotting back into the midfield.

The first real opportunity went the way of the hosts, Obermair running onto a deep cross from Max Dittgen only for his header to sail wide of Joshua Mroß’s goal.

It was clear that was when we should have woken up and taken them seriously as with their next attack, Connor Krempicki opened the scoring with a stunning strike that could have been defended to a much higher standard.

It was a lovely strike that crashed in off the crossbar, but the through ball to Krempicki wasn’t remotely well-defended, nor was Krempicki as he doubled back onto his stronger foot to curl the shot beyond Mroß.

Fortunately for us, we were able to respond quickly in a game that was turned into a slog by a poor side desperate for a positive result.

Coming to our rescue was, you guessed it, Jannik Mause, racing on to a lovely through ball from Dennis Dressel to equalise.

We were behind for only three minutes, thankfully.

A fairly dismal day that we could feel that we edged was capped off in the late stages of the second half when Falcao had the ball in the net only to be denied by a late linesman’s flag.

Not great, lads.

Offering something different to our very up and down league performances was a trip to Cologne for the next round of the Mittelrheinpokal where we took on local side Worringen in our bid to successfully defend our crown.

A much-changed side took to the field for the match with a debut for Luca Sirch, a recent signing to shore up defensive numbers, as well as rare starts for Tim-Sebastian Buchheister, Oluwabori Falaye, Marcel Damaschek and Jannis Held.

The heavily-rotated side didn’t take long to assume control of the game as Oluwabori Falaye and Tim-Sebastian Buchheister grabbed the rare opportunity of a start with a goal each to put us 2-0 up after 13 minutes.

Falaye was slid through by Dawid Krasucki before gently slotting home with a placed shot from an angle while Tim chested down a long ball forward from Dennis Dressel before sliding the ball beyond the home goalie as he rushed out.

The hosts would pull a goal back before the break only for Julian Schwermann to head home to make it a two-goal cushion once again.

As the game wore on, more recognisable faces came on for the fringe players, and it was that man again, Jannik Mause who put the gloss on the scoreline to send us through to the next round by four goals to one.

Easy Street.

The month ended with us facing a recently-relegated Erzgebirge Aue side on a Friday night.
Early season predictions had us struggling and thus nowhere near the top, a win for us here would put us in fifth place with the rest of the league playing over Saturday and Sunday, so it would look really good for us for a wee while at least.

With the majority of the first-teamers rested for the cup tie with Worringen, they made their return for this game, with Jannik Mause aiming to keep up his scintillating run of form this month.

And after five minutes, he duly delivered as he combined well with Hamdi Dahmani to blast the ball home after some brilliant ball carrying from Dennis Dressel in the middle of the park, the former St. Pauli man has fit like a glove in recent weeks, and it showed with his integral work for the first goal.

Fast forward exactly half an hour and Jannik was at it once again, this time combining with Sel Gunduz on the right before stroking the ball home calmly like that Polish lad at Bayern does two leagues above us.

Falcao added a third in the 51st minute, Mause unselfishly turning provider to square the ball inside the box for the Brazilian to score.

An xG of 3, three clear-cut chances and a 3-0 win, you cannot get any better than that to sign off the month.

So far, so good…right?

That result, coupled with others a day later, means that we end October sitting in fifth place (see above)

Due to the current situation at the top with the Reserve sides of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, is good enough for a playoff for promotion to the second tier who finish third from bottom in that division.

I think we are just a little bit ahead of schedule for any of that chat, but to be thriving (so far) instead of struggling is brilliant so far with Bayern II visiting us at Tivoli in November.