It was a memorable season for Rangers as they not only retained the Premiership title but also secured their first domestic treble since 2003.
The Light Blues lost just once in their 38 games and were champions by 20 points.
Celtic endured a wretched season, drawing a joint-high 13 games and slipping to an unprecedented third place behind Hibs.
Joining Celtic in Europe, albeit via the Conference League were traditional heavyweights Hearts and Aberdeen.
Ross County went down to the Championship in bottom place, losing 23 of their 38 fixtures, but only finished a point behind Dundee United, who defeated Livingston 4-3 on aggregate in the playoff final.
Kilmarnock finally ended their exile from the top-flight by narrowly winning the title from recently-relegated Livingston by two points.
Arbroath and Partick Thistle made up the playoff pack, and Livi needed penalties to see off The Jags after they defeated Arbroath on penalties.
Queen of the South were relegated to League One in a tight relegation scrap that saw the Doonhamers separated from Ayr United (9th) and Dunfermline Athletic (8th) by just four points come the end of the season.
Ayr United ensured survival in the second tier by crushing Airdrieonians in the playoff final.
Cinch League One:
Queen’s Park bounced straight back to the Championship in comfort, winning the third tier from second-placed Alloa Athletic by 12 points.
Further disappointment would follow for Alloa in the playoffs, as they lost to Airdrieonians.
Morton completed the top four, but lost in the playoffs to Ayr United.
At the bottom, it was a bad season for football in Aberdeenshire as Cove Rangers and Peterhead both dropped into the bottom tier.
Peterhead lost in the playoff final to Forfar Athletic from the division below, while Cove dropped down in bottom place despite being unbeaten in their final five matches.
Cinch League Two:
In one of the most competitive seasons in many a year, Edinburgh City triumphed as League Two champions by two points from Elgin City.
In truth, the title could have gone anywhere, as the top six sides in the division were separated by a mere seven points with seventh-placed Albion Rovers only 12 points off the top in the end.
At the bottom, it was just as competitive with the playoff place coming down to goal difference between Stranraer and Annan Athletic.
Annan, unfortunately, finished last, but they were successful in the playoff – defeating Bonnyrigg Rose 3-1 on aggregate.
Scottish Clubs in Europe:
Rangers had the most lucrative run in Europe of the Scottish clubs competing, managing to finish second in their UEFA Champions League group behind Manchester City, but lost 5-0 on aggregate to Chelsea in the round of 16.
Celtic were knocked out of the Champions League at the playoff stage by Portuguese heavyweights Sporting, but made excellent progress through their Europa League group and reached the round of 16 where they were eliminated by…Portuguese heavyweights Sporting.
Hibs, like Celtic, reached the last 16 of the Europa League.
The Hibees crushed Flora Tallinn before advancing top of their group that featured Partizan Belgrade, LASK and Dinamo Zagreb before being eliminated 4-3 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid after a battling 2-1 win at Easter Road, though they would be forgiven for thinking what might have been had Kevin Nisbet not missed a penalty in the 60th minute that would have made it 2-1 before Marc Rodger scored the eventual winner.
Hearts enjoyed a courageous run to round of 16 of the Europa Conference League, losing on penalties to Danish side Midtjylland after a 3-3 draw on aggregate.
St. Johnstone set a Scottish record for a European aggregate victory as they defeated Andorran side Santa Coloma 18-0 over two legs with 9-0 wins at home and away.
Olimpija Ljubljana and, surprisingly, AEK Athens were dispatched as the Saints made the group stage of the Conference League where they were cruelly eliminated on head to head by Red Star Belgrade.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Seneca (54 BC- 39)
We entered the final month of the season with our promotion hopes hanging by the slightest of threads, the only way to keep the hunt for three successive promotions was to beat Fortuna Dusseldorf away from home.
The previous meeting in early December produced six goals and a late equaliser, Jannik Mause striking in the 88th minute to grab a point from a game we led 2-0 in then were losing 3-2.
And as we did in the above game, we took the lead, but not before a moment of controversy as the hosts had thought they had gone in front seconds before.
Rey Manaj swept home inside the penalty area after a reverse pass from Benedikt Pichler but strayed offside just as Pichler played the ball.
It would be fair to say that our goal, just seconds after the decision to disallow Düsseldorf’s, came against the run of play. But it was one of the best-looking goals you’ll see.
Stephen Kelly cut out an attempted pass inside before going route one to find Timo Bornemann.
The lone striker was forced wide by the out-rushing Düsseldorf goalkeeper before picking out Selim Gunduz, and the Turkish winger crossed to the far post, where Jannik Mause powered home a header.
But, as had happened in the match in December, scoring first merely awakened the beat in Fortuna, and they were unlucky not to be going into halftime in the lead.
Rey Manaj grabbed the equaliser for the hosts in the 35th minute before striking the bar in stoppage time as we struggled to deal with Düsseldorf’s intensity.
That intensity continued into the second half when the hosts hit the woodwork for a second time as Khalid Narey’s header from a Benedikt Pichler struck the post. It preceded the game’s turning point, two goals in three minutes as Fortuna finally broke through our resistance.
The first came from that man Narey, bursting into the box before curling a shot high into the top corner, way out of the reach of Lennart Moser. Rey Manaj’s second of the game three minutes later ended the game as a contest when he diverted Benedikt Pichler’s header back across goal beyond the reach of Moser.
Although we would get a goal back with ten minutes left, a decent first-time finish from inside the box by Timo Bornemann, we were never in this game and evidence of our overachievement this season really showed in this game.
Despite not having anything to play for in the last two games of the season other than pride, we wanted to finish our home league campaign in style.
Our opponents on a celebratory afternoon at Tivoli were Werder Bremen, who knew that a win against us would secure promotion if other results went in their favour.
We created the game’s first opportunity when a dipping cross from Julian Schwermann found the head of Jannik Mause and barely cleared the crossbar.
The promotion-chasing visitors were, against the odds, struggling to cope with my positive attacking outlook for this meaningless game and found themselves behind in the 35th minute when we opened the scoring through Stephen Kelly.
Scottish central midfielder Stephen has been a revelation since arriving on a free transfer from Rangers last summer, finishing with aplomb after continuing his run into the box and beyond Pavlenka in the Bremen goal.
Seven minutes after our first, we made it two after Timo Bornemann beat Bremen centre-half Schindler in a foot race to latch onto Julian Schwermann’s long free-kick forward from inside our half and coolly slide the ball past Pavlenka.
The Bremen fans were in disbelief as their hopes of promotion were now in jeopardy after a heroic first-half performance left them reeling.
Werder had been read the riot act at the interval and came out a much different side in the second half, creating the first chance of the second period when Lennart Moser tipped over a shot from Janni Serra.
But the game was almost out of sight for the visitors in the 58th minute when Jannik Mause’s shot hit the post to cap off our first real threatening spell in the second 45.
Desperate for a route back into the game, Bremen forced a corner in the 76th minute that, although initially cleared, led to them halving the deficit through Niclas Füllkrug.
Nodding in via the post with 11 minutes to go, Füllkrug hoped to haul a stunned Werder from the canvas, it proved to be purely a consolation and we grabbed a stunning victory against a German footballing giant.
We finished the 2023/24 season with a trip to Karlsruhe, the birthplace of such luminaries as Mercedes-Benz founder Karl Benz, Electricity pioneer Heinrich Rudolf Hertz and terrifying-looking goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.
Our game at the Wildparkstadion was of no consequence to either side, with us in the upper reaches of the middle of the league and Karlsruher comfortably safe from relegation.
Despite a slow start, we took the lead in the 24th minute when centre-half Antonios Papadopoulos made a surging late run into the box before heading home a Stephen Kelly corner.
Ten minutes later and it was 2-0 when Jannik Mause curled home from the edge of the box.
A neat one-two between Jannik and Timo Bornemann from a Stephen Kelly free-kick set him up for the strike.
Leading 2-0 at the break was comfortable enough, but the game was gone for the hosts in the 47th minute when Teddy Jenks, once of Aberdeen, saw a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on Dennis Dressel.
With the man advantage, it was smooth sailing for us, and we added a third from the spot courtesy of Jannik Mause’s second goal of the day and his 17th goal of the season.
Bafflingly, the decision went to VAR, even though it was as cynical a trip as you’ll ever see from Lukas Frode.
Sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, Jannik ensured our season ended on a high with an emphatic win and a 7th-place finish, bringing with it a bumper prize packet of over 10 million pounds and solvency for the first time in years for the club.
With our season finished, it was time to turn attention to the issues to be solved on the final matchday, the destination of the league title, second place and the promotion playoff place you get for finishing third.
In the hunt were Werder Bremen, who remained top despite losing to ourselves last week, with Fortuna Düsseldorf, Nürnberg and Holstein Kiel also in the running for promotion.
Bremen and Düsseldorf had the “easiest” tasks on paper, with Werder at home to Hannover and Fortuna away to an already relegated Sandhausen side.
Nürnberg travelled to take on the other relegated side, Hansa Rostock, while Kiel travelled to Bavaria to face third-bottom Greuther Fürth.
As predicted, Düsseldorf eased to a 3-1 win over Sandhausen, while Nürnberg beat Hansa Rostock 1-0.
Holstein Kiel were also victorious over Greuther Fürth by a goal to nil, meaning that if Werder Bremen avoided defeat, they would finish 2nd on goal difference.
Then disaster struck.
Karim Onisiwo struck for Hannover to break Bremen’s hearts and consign them to another season of second-tier football, dropping from 2nd at the start of play to fourth.
For promotion to the Bundesliga, 1. FC Nürnberg will play 1. FC Köln over two legs while Greuther Fürth will face Hallescher FC, the former Chemie Halle, to avoid relegation to the third tier.
A review of Scotland’s 2023/24 season will follow in due course.
After an eventful end to March that saw our promotion hopes dissolve like that raccoon’s piece of candy floss when they put it in water, we headed to Heidenheim hoping to dish out the thrashing we should have to Greuther Fürth.
Ironically, that result for Fürth meant that Heidenheim now had to look over their shoulders at the Kleeblatter as the season wound down, although the chances of being overtaken by the Bavarians was still a remote one.
We began strongly, even taking the lead within ten minutes of kick-off, or so we thought, as Jannik Mause’s effort was disallowed after consultation with VAR. No complaints in truth when seeing the replay, though the let-off gave the home side a big boost that was compounded when they took the lead.
In what was probably the worst goal I have probably ever seen a team of mine virtual or otherwise concede, a slack backpass from Teddy Alloh hit the post and as Lennart Moser, the goalkeeper dithered to get the ball away, Leon Dajaku pounced to roll home from practically on the goalline.
A short spell of dominance followed for the hosts, and they were unlucky not to double their lead when Marko Pantovic headed high and wide when it looked certain he would find the net.
And they would feel quite aggrieved at having not taken that opportunity as, after a wild shot from Christia Gartner moments before, we found the net – and it stood.
After Max Besuschkow was dispossessed in the middle of the park, we quickly countered and fed the ball to Selim Gunduz, whose deep cross found Jannik Mause, who headed across for Timo Bornemann and he touched the ball into the path of Stephen Kelly to score.
But it was nearly not given, as once again, we had to endure the wait before VAR decided that Stephen was onside and the goal could stand.
The last opportunity of the first half and the first one in the second both went the way of the hosts, but ultimately did not come to fruition.
In the 63rd minute, in what was our first real foray forward in the second half, Selim Gunduz jinked into the box before being unceremoniously felled by a Heidenheim defender, the referee pointed to the spot but was then asked to look again by VAR – it’s third intervention in the game regarding us.
Deservedly, the decision stood and Jannik Mause stepped up and smashed us into the lead somewhat against the run of play.
With the game petering out and an important away win looking secure, the game threw up one last moment of drama.
A quickly taken free-kick led to Carlo Sickinger bursting through to slot home a dramatic equaliser for Heidenheim, the winless run continues.
Looking to pick ourselves up from the pain of that late goal costing us yet another win, we took on Ingolstadt at Tivoli looking to avenge our bruising 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Schanzer in the reverse fixture.
A game that was so important on paper ended up being predictably tense, but everything notable in the game was crammed into the last five minutes of the first half.
All that action began with the visitors taking the lead when Timothy Tillman headed home from a Luca Zander cross, but the celebrations for Ingolstadt would be brief as we equalised directly from kickoff.
After winning a free-kick some distance from goal, Stephen Kelly launched it to Timo Bornemann, who found Jannik Mause and he wriggled past two Ingolstadt defenders to slot home.
But the drama wasn’t over there, as the hosts would retake the lead in stoppage time at the end of the first half, once again, it was Timothy Tillman on target. Poulsen’s cross from the left was inch-perfect for Tillman to volley them back into the lead.
Ben Balla and Hauptmann both came close as the visitors hoped to kill the game in the second half, but Tillman’s double was enough to give the visitors all three points, extending our winless run to four games now, the longest run of my tenure in charge.
With the winless run now standing at four matches we headed to Darmstadt to take on a side in a position we would soon find ourselves in – of having absolutely nothing to play for.
Sitting comfortably ensconced in mid-table, the hosts were out for revenge after our 2-0 victory against them at Tivoli.
On the bench for the hosts was Braydon Manu, who had started the season on loan at us but failed to impress in his six month stint.
We were almost in front in the first minute when Timo Bornemann won the ball from a dallying Darmstadt defender 25 yards from goal. Bursting through with only the goalkeeper to beat, he put his shot well wide.
The hosts had a chance of their own in the 12th minute, but Wehrmann headed over from a corner.
But the first half belonged to us, and we made our advantage count in the 31st minute from the penalty spot.
Julian Schwermann, back into the side after a long injury layoff, swung the ball in from a throw-in he had initially taken and with Jannik Mause set to take the ball down and apply the finish, he was barged over and the referee awarded the penalty after another VAR consultation.
Jannik stepped up and although the Darmstadt goalkeeper guessed correctly, the effort was simply too powerful and it crashed into the back of the net.
With the first half being all one-way traffic, it was no surprise that we came close to adding a second as the first period ticked down, this time it was Jannik Mause striking the bar with a header after an excellent cross from Christian Gartner.
Leading 1-0 at the break, but it could easily have been 3-0, we seemed to be on the right track – I told the players that at the break and they were certainly grateful to hear the words of affirmation.
A largely uneventful second half began to play out, with nothing to suggest the scoreline would change, unlike the first half where we created two excellent chances and also scored the penalty.
But our old foe, complacency, would once again creep into focus and the hosts grabbed an equaliser against the run of play.
Fabian Schnellhardt beat his way into the box before floating a cross back in and onto the head of Amin Younes who guided the ball into the ground and past Lennart Moser.
We almost took the lead immediately from the kick-off, but the cutback to Selim Gunduz was well saved by the host’s goalie. From there, it was the home side that looked more likely to win, clipping the bar with two headers from inside the box.
A disappointing result considering how much better we had been throughout the game.
We were fortunate to land the early Friday kickoff in our final fixture in April, our opponents were a St. Pauli, still looking nervously over one shoulder at the bottom of the table.
Despite their struggles in the league, the visitors have been outstanding in the cup and stunned Union Berlin to reach the DFB Pokal final, beating Union Berlin on penalties just three days before facing us at Tivoli.
Keen to exploit their exertions during the week, I set out to be on the front foot and run at them, hoping to cause them problems from the off and pick them off as they tired.
It was a plan that didn’t execute as intended, as the visitors took the lead in the 21st minute through Walid Faghir, their hero in the Pokal semi-final.
Former Aachen man Nikola Iliev picked the lock, sending a precise ball through to Faghir, who tucked home with aplomb.
That goal came when the visitors were very much at their peak, and their midweek exertions began to take their toll as the first half edged towards completion, culminating in our equaliser from Jannik Mause.
Julian Schwermann’s cross into the box was perfectly timed, as was the run from Jannik to volley home.
Timo Bornemann should have had us in the lead going into halftime, but his effort couldn’t beat the post after putting it past Lennart Grill.
Our momentum didn’t diminish in the second half like it had done against Darmstadt and we kept our foot on the gas against the toiling St. Pauli players, a marauding run into danger by Teddy Alloh set up a Dennis Dressel cross that was struck first time by Jannik Mause, but the effort would be scrambled away by the dogged St. Pauli defending.
Stephen Kelly also came close to scoring a second free-kick in as many games against St. Pauli moments after Mause’s effort, but it was spectacularly palmed away by Grill.
The visitor’s efforts to keep us out were truly heroic, but they couldn’t do it forever and we found a way through courtesy of a stunning diagonal ball from Falcao into the path of Timo Bornemann, who poked home to put us in front.
A performance that started off badly that got better as it went on, winning by attrition after five frustrating attempts.
While the win was a timely one, it didn’t really do us anything because of the results that followed and if we are to stand any chance of promotion to the Bundesliga this season then we have to beat Düsseldorf next week away from home.
After a humiliating end to the month at the hands of a resurgent Freiburg, the scheduling of our next game at home to Holstein Kiel being the Sunday evening game on this particular round of fixtures meant we had to stew in our frustration and anger slightly longer.
The top nine sides in the league are a logjam as the season winds down, with our position varying from 3rd if we win in the early kick-off on Saturday to ninth by the time everyone has played.
While another defeat was not likely to be immediately fatal, it would be costly, with Kiel involved too in this fight to the finish that has become vogue in the 2. Bundesliga.
Lennart Moser and Stephen Kelly returned to the starting lineup, giving it a more familiar feel. Alas, we soon found our ongoing malaise was proving very difficult to shift when the visitors took the lead in the 25th minute.
Jonas Michelbrink finished off a well-worked move by Kiel with a thunderous strike into the top corner from 20 yards out.
The visitors almost doubled their lead in the 39th minute when Opoku let fly from the edge of the penalty area, only for his effort to curl just wide of the far post.
With no significant pressure applied to the visitors, whose confidence grew the longer they were ahead, I demanded more from them from the sidelines. On top of already telling them I was disappointed at the halftime break.
The blue air did the trick as we equalised with our first meaningful attack of the second half.
Stephen Kelly had been forced wide inside the penalty area, but he was able to pick out Dennis Dressel with a backward pass before he found Christia Gartner, who cut inside and curled the ball into the net from 20 yards.
In the end, another poor result, but glad we were able to haul ourselves off the canvas and react after such a dreadful result the week before.
Our run now sat at one win in six games, and we needed to stop the slump. The next match gave us that possibility in the form of a hapless-looking Hansa Rostock side perilously close to being doomed at the foot of the table.
With three wins all season, their most recent coming last month and the one before that coming in September, all signs pointed to this game being the game for us to get back into our “groove”, so to speak, ahead of the crucial game away at Nürnberg.
An all-out attack was the plan, a risky strategy for an away game, but I felt we needed to get out there and (hopefully) smash them to pieces to get that feel-good factor back.
The game’s opening goal arrived in the 26th minute when Stephen Kelly’s cross picked out Jannik Mause at the back post to nod us into the lead.
A goal that came courtesy of the persistence of Antonis Papadopoulos, deputising at right-back after Julian Schwermann went down with an injury that could leave him out for most of the remaining fixtures.
Papadopoulos’s run to the byline stretched the Rostock defence, allowing him to return the ball to Kelly to find Mause with the cross for the header.
Eight minutes later and it was 2-0 when Jannik Mause once again ghosted in for a header, this time it was Timo Bornemann with the assist, although Rizzuto, who lost Mause for the first goal, will not want to watch that one back, losing him for yet another header.
That’s ten for the season for Jannik, not bad at all, considering he had just one at the turn of the year.
Rostock’s home ground, without the sponsor, is called the Ostseestadion, in reference to the city’s location on the Baltic Sea (Ostsee in German).
And it proved ironic here, with the home defence being all at sea for our third goal.
Selim Gunduz put in an excellent cross from the byline, zipping it across the penalty area, where it ended up in the back of the net. Unfortunately, it was by a Hansa player rather than one of ours. Mattias Jakobsen the culprit.
Five minutes after making it 3-0, a fourth goal followed when Timo Bornemann got in on the act.
After Bornemann had provided his second goal, Jannik Mause returned the favour with a lovely ball into the channel that Bornemann took in his stride and buried the chance presented to him.
With the game ticking down, the hosts did at least manage to see one of their players score at the right end.
Jan-Niklas Beste got it, providing scant consolation for an abject home performance by a Hansa side certain to be relegated as the season winds down.
From a balls-out attacking approach, it was back to the drawing board for the pivotal clash away to Nürnberg.
Victory against Nürnberg would, with results going our way, move us into second place and contention for automatic promotion to the Bundesliga. I was aware of the ramifications of both getting this game right and wrong.
With that in mind, I departed from my usually forward-thinking approach, opting for a shoot-on-sight approach, focusing on winning set pieces to try and score from at every given opportunity but avoiding counter-pressing and regrouping when losing possession.
But with barely a quarter of an hour played, the hosts took the lead through Robert Leipertz.
A simple ball over the top did the damage, finding Leipertz in the box before he slotted home, although I wasn’t initially sure if the goal would stand, as it was referred to VAR for offside.
After a check, the referee opted to give the goal.
The hosts almost had a less convoluted second goal in the 25th minute, only for Antonis Papadopoulos to clear the ball off the line after a header hit the post.
After being under pressure for most of the first half, we clawed ourselves back into the game with a well-worked equaliser when Christian Gartner and Timo Bornemann combined for the latter to slide home in a move similar to the host’s goal.
So similar was the goal that the referee decided to ask VAR, who ruled it as being onside.
Level at the break without playing particularly well. You take that any day of the week, especially away from home.
The first 15 minutes of the second period offered no inclination as to which way the game would go. My players were very much on board with my instructions of trying to hit Nürnberg from set pieces or a long shot from open play.
Two minutes later, the hosts retook the lead through Mickael Cuisance.
Capitalising on an unfortunate slip by Tjorben Uphoff as Mats Møller Dæhli played the pass, the Frenchman burst through and slotted beyond Lennart Moser.
Cuisance almost had a second in the 70th minute, finding himself through on goal against Moser for a second time, but his shot was smothered by Lennart this time.
When Nürnberg added a third in the 78th minute, a second goal of the match for Robert Leipertz, it seemed that would be the end of the game as a contest.
But despite being distantly second best for most of proceedings, we managed to haul ourselves from the canvas to provide the game with a dramatic conclusion.
A hopeful ball over the top hung in the air, catching out a cluster of Nürnberg defenders and allowing Basti Schmitt to steal in and bring us back to within a goal.
The hosts immediately went on the offensive, looking to kill a game they thought was dead for a second time, but Robert Leipertz sliced his chance for a hat-trick wide.
In the second minute of added time, Basti Schmitt crossed into the box and found Timo Bornemann, who volleyed home to make it 3-3.
The cross had followed a corner which had been cleared initially by the home side before we counter-pressed them and won the ball midway inside their half.
The fans celebrated, I was delighted, then silence.
My heart sank as I saw the referee head over to the side of the park to consult with VAR whether Timo was offside or not.
The deliberation felt like it went slower than a week in jail before the referee confirmed my worst fears – Timo was indeed offside – the final whistle went almost immediately after their goalkeeper took the resulting free-kick.
March concluded with a visit to Tivoli from Greuther Fürth, who have seen improvement in their bid to get away from the bottom three places in the division.
Before playing us, they had lost to the wretched Hansa Rostock side we battered early in the month, but that loss came after three straight wins under new manager Christian Streich.
Much like the Rostock game, the onus was on attacking Fürth and putting the heartache of the dramatic loss at Nürnberg.
We created the first chance after 18 minutes when a stunning diagonal pass found Jannik Mause on the left flank. He cut the ball back to Christian Gartner, who saw his effort from the edge of the box strike the crossbar.
If that was a warning for the struggling Kleeblatter, it was one that they did not heed as Timo Bornemann got over the disappointment of his disallowed goal at Nürnberg by opening the scoring here in the 27th minute.
The visitors didn’t track Teddy Alloh’s overlapping run, and he crossed for Timo to sweep home.
Fürth fashioned their first decent chance ten minutes into the second half. Steven Skrzybski crossed for Branimir Hrgota – only for the Swedish striker to struggle to be caught flat-footed and allow Alexander Heinze to dispossess him before Teddy Alloh cleared the danger.
Not keeping a closer eye on Hrgota would prove costly as the Swede atoned for his earlier cock-up by netting an equaliser against the run of play with 20 minutes left.
Receiving the ball from [First name] Koblyanski, Hrgota raced through and curled home to the delight of the 157 visiting fans.
Four minutes after the equaliser, Hrgota missed a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead when he found himself clean through against Lennart Moser, only to send his shot way wide of goal.
That eventful month of action means the full 2. Bundesliga table going into April 2024 looks like this:
The international break at the end of this month brought with it the semi-finals and finals of the playoffs for the upcoming Euros this summer.
Scotland qualified for the 2024 European Championships after a dominant playoff display that had many scratching their heads as to how they finished bottom of their initial qualifying group.
John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong netted in the 2-0 semi-final triumph over Bosnia before Ché Adams and Callum McGregor each scored twice as Latvia were crushed in Riga to book their ticket to the Euros.
An excellent start indeed to life with new manager David Moyes.
Joining Scotland at the Euros via the playoffs are Bulgaria, who beat Northern Ireland 1-0, Denmark, who beat Croatia 4-1 and Sweden, who beat Ukraine 2-1.
Away from Scotland, there was a personal moment of pride as we saw our first senior player in my time in charge make an international appearance when auxiliary defender Nigel Lonwijk made his debut for Suriname in a 2-1 victory over Puerto Rico.
After two successive wins following the winter break, we entered February 2024 on a high with a crucial, money-spinning cup clash with Bundesliga side Mainz awaiting us.
But before we could think about Mainz, we faced a tough test in the form of Dynamo Dresden.
Coming into the game, the visitors sat top of the league and on a menacing unbeaten run of 11 games, hoping to make it 12 at our beloved Tivoli.
More than 12,000 turned up for the game that lived up to its billing as the topspiel.
And it would be our home faithful who were celebrating first when Jannik Mause struck beyond Kevin Broll from some 25 yards.
All things considered, it was a great strike, but the high ball into space from Teddy Alloh was the stuff of legend.
It was almost 2-0 right before the break when both wingers combined to give the visitors a reprieve. Selim Gunduz showed great persistence against the Dresden left-back before sending in a cross for Basti Schmitt that he headed just over the bar.
After offering little in the game until the 74th minute, Dresden proved their dangerous credentials when they fashioned a stunning equaliser that came somewhat against the run of play.
Emerson was the scorer, his stunning strike looping over Lennart Moser in a disheartening display of counter-attacking by our opponents.
In the grand scheme of things, a draw probably wouldn’t have been a bad result, but we had been leading and were comfortable – it would have left a bitter aftertaste.
But the game served up not one but two moments of drama in stoppage time as we snatched the points from Dresden.
With Dresden looking to push for a winner – they fell victim to a devastating counter-attack of our own. Christian Gartner’s eye of the needle pass sent Jannik Mause through to slot home after taking one touch inside the box.
But the drama wasn’t over because in the sixth minute of stoppage time and following a throw-in Jannis Held exchanged passes with Selim Gunduz before crossing into the area. Dresden’s keeper Kevin Broll was stuck under the ball – allowing Jannik Mause to nod home for a hat-trick.
A truly sensational way to prepare for the cup tie during the week with Mainz.
With the league leaders bodied and our chances of another promotion looking good, it was time to turn our focus to the cup and our opponents, Mainz.
The recent pedigree of the visitors was built by a former player who spent several years at the club as manager before leaving for greener pastures, a man called Jurgen Klopp.
With the league leaders bodied and our chances of another promotion looking good, it was time to turn our focus to the cup and our opponents, Mainz.
The recent pedigree of the visitors was built by a former player who spent several years at the club as manager before leaving for greener pastures, a man called Jurgen Klopp.
The mood around Tivoli was magical, with more than 20,000 people in attendance as we looked to reach the quarter-finals with an upset win against the side sitting in purgatory that is mid-table in the Bundesliga.
Despite the atmosphere on the cold, wet night, we couldn’t get our foot on the ball in the early stages, and Mainz almost had the lead after two minutes when Ali Akman burst through only to put his effort wide of the goal.
Although he missed in the second minute, he wouldn’t be so forgiving in the 26th when he rolled the ball home after good work down their right as Lee Jae-Sung found space behind Teddy Alloh to find the Turkish dangerman.
With five minutes until the interval, we were almost level. And we probably should have been, as Christian Gartner screwed an effort wide of the post with only Mark Flekken in the Mainz goal to beat.
Good linkup play from Jannik Mause and Timo Bornemann created the chance, the former back-heeling the ball into Christian’s path before he failed to take the opportunity when presented with it.
The embryonic stages of the second half would bring another massive chance missed when Basti Schmitt’s flick was denied by a smart save by the imperious Flekken between the Mainz sticks.
Jannik Mause was next to have an effort turned away by the formidable Flekken, seeing a one-on-one shot palmed away after being put through by Timo Bornemann with a quarter of an hour left in the game.
The visitors had a chance to end the game as a contest with three minutes remaining when Stefan Bell’s uncontested header hit the bar before going behind.
Despite our very best efforts, we bowed out of the cup, but it was heartening that Bo Svensson, the Mainz coach, rowed back his earlier comments that we would be easy opponents.
The Dane, a trusted lieutenant under Klopp and then Thomas Tuchel while a player at Mainz, graciously acknowledged the difficulty we posed them in his post-match press conference.
Where do you go to pick up a group of players that left it all out on the park against a top-flight side?
Osnabrück, that’s where. We headed to Lower Saxony to take on another side performing above expectations in the 2. Bundesliga this season.
Given the positivity of the game against Mainz, I opted to change the side and the approach very little against the Lilo-Weiß (Lilac-Whites).
That was a decision I would regret as Nicolas Kuhn created the game’s first chance for the home side, although his effort went wildly over the crossbar.
Jannik Mause’s shot went wide when put through between the Osnabrück defenders as we looked to fashion our chances to take the lead, but it would have an immediate sting in the tail.
Mere seconds after creating that chance, the hosts took the lead when Meritan Shabani advanced unchallenged into the penalty area before slotting home.
Much like in the Mainz game, the very early stages of the second half nearly brought an equaliser for us when a shot on the turn from Timo Bornemann whistled just over the crossbar.
It was the turn of the hosts to pile the pressure on once again when Florian Hartherz’s free-kick crashed against the frame of the goal before it was eventually scrambled clear after some initial panic.
Moments later, disaster struck when Nicolas Kuhn broke free from the attempted stoppage of Tjorben Uphoff. The Osnabrück maestro advanced on our goal before smashing home the host’s second of the afternoon.
2-0 down and very much against the run of play, I was apoplectic.
But fast forward eight minutes, and the mood had changed as we found a way back into the game courtesy of a stunning set piece from a key player.
Dennis Dressel, who doesn’t score often, channelled his inner David Beckham from 25 yards to give us a route back into a game we should never have been losing.
Eight minutes after that, we were deservedly level. It was a move started by Tjorben Uphoff, at fault for the second Osnabrück goal, winning a header before Timo Borneman sent it into the channel for Falcao to tee up Jannik Mause to equalise.
But there would be a late twist as an old foe from the 3. Liga stole the three points for the home side.
Armindo Sieb, our enemy from the clashes against Bayern II, ghosted between Tjorben Uphoff and Alexander Heinze before slotting beyond the advancing Lennart Moser with three minutes left.
After two bruising defeats, we were given a boost ahead of our penultimate game of the month at home to upwardly mobile Bochum with the return to full training of Stephen Kelly.
Although he was only fit enough for a place on the bench, it was timely as the rejigged team to accommodate his absence had shown both the good and the bad.
And the good showed itself in the first 18 minutes as we raced into a 2-0 lead, making the losses to Mainz and Osnabrück feel inconsequential.
Jannik Mause got the first, although there was an air of good fortune about it as a misjudged header attempt made by Bochum’s Bormuth left Jannik with a simple finish, rolling the ball home from eight yards.
Three minutes passed before it was 2-0 through a sweeping move from left to right that allowed Selim Gunduz to set up Mause, whose dummy shot hoodwinked the Bochum defence. Unselfishly, he rolled the ball into the path of Timo Bornemann, who finished powerfully.
Bornemann almost had a second goal two minutes after scoring when his shot was palmed away for a corner kick.
The visitors missed a relatively decent chance in the 34th minute when Robin Bormuth, who fluffed his header on Dennis Dressel’s high ball that led directly to the opening goal, powered a header just wide of goal.
Bochum would eventually get back in the game in the 56th minute through Silvere Ganvoula, but only before Michael Gregoritsch missed a glorious chance seven minutes before.
The Austrian was clean through against Lennart Moser and somehow contrived to hit the post from barely ten yards.
Ganvoula’s goal was a well-worked one. An excellent cross-field pass from Rodrigo Zalazar found full-back Marcel Halstenberg with his cross landing on the head of the surging Ganvoula.
But in the 65th minute, we restored the two-goal cushion when a hopeful ball into the box by centre-back Antonis Papadopoulos met with a flying header from Jannik Mause that hit the back of the net like a bullet.
Superb to get back on track ahead of a crucial game against Freiburg.
If any word or phrase adequately described our preparations for the final game of the month against SC Freiburg, it would be something like cursed or snake-bit.
Basti Schmitt was missing through injury, and Stephen Kelly was still not fully fit. To top it off, three days before the game, Lennart Moser came down with a cold, meaning the first start for Joshua Mroß since the last game we played in January.
With Mroß lacking match sharpness, Moser barely fit enough for the bench and Kelly still finding his way back to full match fitness, our visit to Freiburg’s Europa Park Stadion was disastrous.
Davie Selke and Janis Antiste had the hosts 2-0 up after 11 minutes before a Lars Kehl effort in the 22nd minute ended the game as a contest, although that was certain after Antiste’s goal.
Mercifully, the 4th arrived with seven minutes to go, a second for Antiste, who terrorised poor Tonis Papadopoulos, who had a shocker.
The birthday month ending on a bum note was not how I hoped it would go, especially after some good performances against Bochum and Dresden, even in defeat against Mainz.
But the manner of the league defeats was hard to take. The first time I’ve been raging during this save.
Join me next month as we begin the countdown to the end of the season.
With the winter break (and 2023) in the rearview mirror, it was time to look at the squad to rejig it in the transfer window – although there wasn’t any desperate need to sign anybody.
There were departures, though, and probably the most significant one was that of Braydon Manu after a disappointing loan spell where he was threatened with recall by the new Darmstadt manager Urs Fischer – despite making him surplus to requirements after we sent him back.
Marcel Damaschek and Marco Müller departed on loans until the end of the season, as did Jan Strauch.
Arriving for the remainder of the season, taking over from Joshua in goal, was Lennart Moser from Union Berlin.
We couldn’t meet Joshua’s demands on a new deal, with him wanting not only a three-year extension but also a hefty £3,000 a week wage, not possible when the entire balance for ages for everybody totalled within £2,500 of the budget.
We prepared for the first matches of the Ruckrunde with two friendlies against local sides SV Rott and DJK Westwacht Aachen.
I fielded a much-rotated side for each game, which ended in a 7-0 win over Rott and a 3-0 success against Westwacht.
That set us up for the first game back, a home clash with Hannover, who were looking to get new manager Gerardo Seoane off to a winning start.
And after two minutes, the new gaffer had his wish as Hendrik Weydandt headed the visitors into the lead. An inquest about how we left him with a free header will be on the cards, don’t worry.
But much like Chumbawumba in their legendary hit, when we get knocked down, we get back up again – and after a quarter of an hour, we were level.
Stephen Kelly’s ball over the top of the Hannover defence found Timo Bornemann, who crashed the box before sending the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
But Hannover bit back, retaking the lead in the 23rd minute, as Teddy Alloh showed Sarpreet Singh inside, allowing him to hit the byline and cross for a tap-in for Franck Evina.
Chasing the game once again, we came close to a second equaliser when Stephen Kelly’s shot was pushed onto the frame of the goal before eventually being scrambled clear.
But the visitors couldn’t hold out for much longer as we grabbed that second equaliser through that man again, Timo Bornemann.
Christian Gartner provided the assist with a weighted through ball that split the Hannover defence. Taking a touch to steady himself, Timo slotted home his and our second goal of the game.
A topsy-turvy game got even topsier and turvier when, in added time at the end of the first half, we got our noses in front for the first time.
In a reversal of the second equaliser, Timo Bornemann set up Christian Gartner, whose shot sailed into the top corner like an Exocet.
Predictably, the second half was a non-event, but the best chance fell to Jannik Mause when he shot wide after cutting inside on his favoured left foot.
A sensational win in a very exhilarating game, but not something I want to keep happening. I’d prefer we got results without making it spicy all the time.
The month ended with a visit to SV Sandhausen, who are looking like certainties for the drop now.
We also came into the game with a crucial enforced absence as Stephen Kelly suffered a groin strain in training. The injury also meant an intended loan out for Bobby Carroll could no longer go ahead, so he was back in the fold as I tinkered with the team.
Julian Schwermann returned at right-back. He replaced Jannis Held, who impressed against Hannover, getting the nod after a successful loan spell further down the pyramid and with Marco Müller being shipped out.
Christian Gartner moved further back, partnering Dennis Dressel at the base of midfield as Timo Bornemann moved into the Shadow Striker role behind Jannik Mause.
Despite the difference in position between ourselves and Sandhausen, the number of changes meant a disjointed beginning to the game was pounced upon by the opponents as Emrehan Gedikli gave the hosts the lead.
After winning the ball inside their own half, the hosts sprung on the counter as Vrenezi combined nicely with Peter Neumann. It was from this early cross that Gedikli burst through sweep the ball beyond Joshua Mroß.
Much like the Hannover game, the concession of the goal invigorated the players. And we were desperately unlucky not to equalise in the 27th minute when Timo Bornemann’s shot was blocked on the line by a Sandhausen defender.
The travelling Alemannia faithful, however, would not have long to wait before we did equalise against the league’s second from bottom side.
Dennis Dressel cut out an attempt by the hosts to launch the ball forward after being pressed into the corner. That header found Timo Bornemann, who slid the ball to Jannik Mause, who played it into the path of Selim Gunduz to score his seventh goal of the season.
And like the Hannover game the week before, we went into the break leading after being behind. But we had a tense wait as VAR intervened to check if goalscorer Basti Schmitt was offside.
Christian Gartner hit a free-kick from out near the touchline that swung into the Sandhausen box, where Basti guided the ball home with his head after a flick-on from Jannik Mause.
After a look at the monitor, the decision was reached that the goal stood, much to my relief.
Basti had a great chance to extend our lead further, but he saw his effort from a tight angle saved following good work to set him up by Selim Gunduz.
From the resulting corner, Antonis Papadopoulos had his own chance, blasting the ball over the bar and away from immediate danger.
VAR would intervene for a second time in the game in the 71st minute when Emrehan Gedikli, scorer of the opening goal, had the ball in the net for a second time.
The Sandhausen front-man peeled away from Tjorben Uphoff to collect a ball over the top from Pascal Testroet before slotting home.
It was a huge call that stood to be pivotal in our hopes of an unprecedented third consecutive promotion and Sandhausen’s hopes of beating the drop.
The decision to award the goal was dramatically overturned when VAR deemed Gedikli offside when he raced away from Uphoff, sparing our blushes.
A frustrating day for Sandhausen was made worse with 12 minutes left as we scored a third through Jannik Mause.
Combining nicely with Timo Bornemann, he raced onto the ball over the top, dragging out the goalkeeper before slotting the ball beyond him for his second goal of the season.
That’s all for this month, join me next time as we review February 2024, a most exciting month as it features our clash at home to Mainz in the Pokal.
Until next time,
P.S. In real life, Alemannia sacked their manager Fuat Kilic last week before going on to beat Straelen 4-2 in the league. A result that has them sixth in the table and six points off the leaders with a game in hand.
As has been the case since moving to Germany, December is short and sweet, with just three fixtures and a winter break of about four weeks until the third week of January.
The games this month followed the final international break of 2023, which concluded with Steve Clarke resigning as manager of Scotland after a wretched Euro 2024 qualification campaign.
Scotland couldn’t recover from a poor start, losing away to Croatia and Wales.
Despite a win at home to Croatia, losses away in Azerbaijan and Slovenia left them ignominiously bottom of their group with one win out of eight games.
With all of the Scotland woes out of the way, our opponents on our return to action were sixth-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The group was in good spirits after Teddy Alloh & Timo Bornemann signed one-year extensions to their contracts – both were due to expire in the summer.
Onto the game and two early goals seemed to have us on track for a third straight win, but old habits are proving difficult to kill with a squad mostly still learning on the job at this level.
Timo Bornemann’s brace marked his new contract in style. His first was a composed finish from inside the box after a lovely reverse pass from Christian Gartner before a header from a cross from Selim Gunduz two minutes later had Tivoli rocking.
But back came the visitors – scoring three times in eight minutes to take the lead going into the break.
Much like Christian Gartner picked the lock on the Fortuna defence, Genki Haraguchi did so with ours. His pass sliced through the middle of our final third to set up Rey Manaj for an emphatic finish from inside the penalty area.
Marco Müller, our right-back, will not want to look back at the second Fortuna goal, nor hear about it on Talking Fussball – The Aufstieg Edition, caught out of position, a march stolen on him by Benedikt Pichler for a header at the far post.
After two sloppy goals, the hosts turned on the style to take the lead when Kostas Stafylidis cracked a stunning shot from 25 yards and a tight angle.
Steam was coming out of my ears. I was livid that we had let the lead inexplicably slip again at this level.
Fortuna almost had the game out of sight in the 65th minute when Benedikt Pichler’s shot from just outside the penalty area beat Joshua Mroß all ends up, but not the post.
As victory loomed for the visitors, we showed that for all we can sometimes lose control of games, we can also inexplicably seize it back.
Something that showed in the 88th minute as Jannik Mause opened his account in truly stunning fashion.
Dennis Dressel launched it long for Jannik to run onto before he collected the ball some 25 yards from goal, sensationally chipping Fortuna ‘keeper Kastenmaier.
It was a goal fit enough to win a Champions League game, never mind earning a point in a promotion six-pointer.
Preparation for our next game, away to Werder Bremen, was hit by setbacks in the build-up as three enforced absences caused multiple changes.
A booking against Fortuna in the last game meant that Dennis Dressel was missing due to suspension. Meanwhile, an injury to Bobby Carroll meant that Marco Müller kept his place despite his mistake for the second goal as Julian Schwermann was moved into midfield.
Also missing was the hugely influential Selim Gunduz. Braydon Manu was set to deputise, only for him to also get injured – meaning a very makeshift side took to the field in Bremen for a vitally important clash.
As expected, the hosts came out flying, having won their last four home games in the league. But they had to wait until the half-hour mark to fashion their first real chance when Marvin Dücksch saw his header from a Leo Bittencourt cross hit the post.
It was akin to The Alamo for us, with the hosts creating all the chances without putting us under what you would call sustained pressure, though they did go close once again with 15 minutes left when a poorly defended corner made its way to Florian Jung inside the penalty area, but his shot went wide.
A 30th-minute corner that didn’t even make the first man was our best (only) foray forward in the game.
But we clung on to secure a massive point considering the partial capitulation against Fortuna and the mini injury crisis before the game.
After the draw at Bremen, as preparation for the last home game of 2023 was underway, I received some most exciting news from the Youth Academy.
Karlsruhe at Tivoli closed out a memorable 2023 for us.
We were looking to keep up our unbeaten run and extend it to five games if we could avoid defeat.
Selim Gunduz was passed fit, but rather than risk him, he featured for the Under-19s instead.
Dennis Dressel returned to the side after suspension, meaning Julian Schwermann moved back to right-back with Marco Müller dropped to the bench.
With Karlsruhe weak when conceding the first goal, the plan was to get forward and attack – only for the visitors to have the ball in the net after ten minutes.
Finnish defender Daniel O’Shaughnessy (I know) headed the ball home from a Teddy Jenks cross. Unfortunately for Karlsruhe, their celebrations would be cut short as the referee disallowed the goal after consultation with VAR.
Their celebrations would be able to start for real in the 25th minute when they took the lead for real as Lucas Cueto swept home from inside the box to open the scoring.
As we pushed for the equaliser, Basti Schmitt had a moment to forget when he sliced his shot wildly high and wide in the 35th minute.
But we didn’t have long to wait for an equaliser to arrive as just five minutes after Basti’s sitter, we levelled the score through Timo Bornemann.
Christian Gartner showed his class when a perfectly weighted pass caught the Karlsruhe defence flat-footed, allowing Timo to race into the box before a nonchalant dink over the goalie.
Bornemann then came close to a second goal just after the hour when he collected another lovely pass from Gartner, only to see his shot crash against the post after leaving the KSC goalie stranded.
With time ticking down, a third consecutive draw seemed a certainty, until the 90th minute when we had the ball in the net.
Unfortunately for us, VAR would intervene, and after giving us a lifeline in the first half, it would give our opponents one right at the death.
In the end, a draw was probably the fair result, both sides having a goal disallowed etc. But I also felt we should have scored the chance that Timo hit the post with.
Those three draws this month mean we finish 2023 in sixth place, we are eight points off of the top two and five adrift of third place – which is a playoff against the third bottom side from the Bundesliga.
Crucially, however, we are well clear of relegation danger so far, sitting 18 points clear of the relegation playoff at the other end and 20 clear of automatic relegation.
I’m a bit concerned at how well we’re doing but also quite excited, see you in 2024!
After a hectic September and October, I was most grateful that November featured only two fixtures before an international break, between the beginning of this month and the end of the next, we play only five games with long absences.
Which will, in all honesty, help our recent injury crisis as well as hopefully find a permanent replacement assistant manager.
Uwe Grauer left the club in July to take over as #2 at Sandhausen, who are now rooted to the bottom of the league and have sacked both him and the guy he was assisting.
Despite my best efforts, he did not want his old job back and the search continued with Director of Football Martin Bader assisting me on an ad-hoc basis on matchday.
We welcomed Darmstadt to Tivoli in the first of our two games this month with our team starting to look a bit more like it had previously, by that, I mean not having so many walking wounded.
Darmstadt have, like the other early season contenders for the top of the table, underachieved so far this season, in contrast to ourselves probably overachieving.
The only chance of the first half went the way of the visitors as Tim Skarke raced through but blazed his effort well over the bar, undoing the good work in the buildup from Amin Younes out wide before Philip Tietz held the ball up then slipped him in for the effort.
Once again, I resisted the temptation to read them the riot act, but did tell them that they were capable of better when they went out for the second 45 – and once again it paid dividends as we opened the scoring within two minutes of the restart.
Selim Gunduz won out in a duel on the right flank after being set up by Timo Bornemann before crossing for him, the striker cheating it down before rolling the ball into the back of the net.
Both guys have been in and out of the side with injury, affecting my entire tactical approach to recent games, and it’s no surprise we’ve had some bad results because of it, so delighted they could combine for the goal.
If Darmstadt boss George Martin Leopold was furious at the defensive display for the first of our goals, then his head was nearly falling off for our second as another skied Tim Skarke chance led to a goal kick that went from back to front with the help of Teddy Alloh, Basti Schmitt, Stephen Kelly, Dennis Dressel and Christian Gartner.
Yes, all of them had a hand in it, ultimately it was Gartner who slipped in Basti Schmitt, who has thrived in the enforced absence of Jannik Mause, he hit the byline before standing the ball up for Timo Bornemann to volley in his second to secure a vital three points ahead of the tricky trip to St. Pauli.
As hinted at the end of the summary of the win over Darmstadt, we finished up the month with a very difficult trip to Hamburg to take on St. Pauli, who came into the game one point and one place below us in the table after three consecutive victories.
With a healing squad, but keenly aware of wanting to avoid a repeat of the humiliation at Ingolstadt, I reverted to a cautious setup with no working of the ball into the box and maintaining discipline in the hope we could pick them apart if they tried anything risky to break us down.
Predictably, a tense game was the outcome, the raucous crowd at Millerntor whipping the home players up to take us on and try and take us out.
An instruction that St. Pauli’s Jan Paul van Hecke took a bit too literally, in a decision that dramatically changed the course of the game.
As Selim Gunduz squared for Timo Bornemann to race through on goal, the Dutchman cleaned him out, with only van Hecke between Bornemann and Lennart Grill in goal there was only going to be one outcome – and he was dismissed.
If the red card for the professional foul was bad enough for the hosts, Stephen Kelly would rub further salt into the wound when his free-kick flew into the back of the net via the post.
The red card and subsequent goal from the set-piece completely changed the game and we smelt blood from that point on as FCSP frantically went from swashbuckling attack to all-out containment.
Just two minutes after the first goal, we got our second when Teddy Alloh’s lofted ball over the top found Basti Schmitt to run onto it and hit the byline before crossing for Timo Bornemann to grab the goal he seemed certain to get before being poleaxed.
Smelling blood, Bornemann was denied a second when his darting run to the near post was picked out by Selim Gunduz – only for him to see the shot pushed around the post by Lennart Grill. A third goal did eventually arrive, and it completed the rubbing of salt into the wound opened up by Stephen Kelly’s goal following the red card when Dennis Dressel, who I signed from St. Pauli tied things up.
His celebration was classy and muted, despite scoring an utterly stunning shot from distance.
A short and sweet November has the (full, this time) 2. Bundesliga table looking like this going into December.
Our first game in October was a trip to leafy Bavaria to take on Greuther Fürth in what was a milestone game for me, my 100th in charge of the club since taking over three and a bit years ago.
Now, the Kleeblätter may be struggling in the league this season, but the city will never be forgiven for being the birthplace of known bastard Henry Kissinger.
With the pleasantries out of the way, I was hoping this trip to one of the greatest beer-making regions in the world would provide a memorable backdrop to my century of games in charge – and boy, was it memorable.
Keen to ease the pressure on their embattled gaffer, the home side started like a train and totally caught us on the hop, racing into a 2-0 lead after just eleven minutes of action.
After a scramble in the box, Florian Kainz poked home the opening goal after five minutes, the buildup for which will definitely not be one to look back fondly on for Teddy Alloh, who was pulled apart by Branimir Hrgota.
And tormentor in chief Hrgota would double the lead six minutes later, giving poor Teddy the slip again before calmly slotting home.
By this point, I was absolutely fuming but stopped short of berating everyone, although Teddy Alloh was getting told in a very colourful Glaswegian way to concentrate.
In a similar vein to the Nürnberg game, the game getting away from them a wee bit seemed to waken them up and we pulled a goal back in stoppage time through Selim Gunduz.
Racing through onto a precise pass into space from Dennis Dressel, the Turkish winger made no mistake and we were back in it.
Something I made clear, despite us not being at the races for the majority of the first 45, there was still only a goal in it, somehow.
The words of wisdom worked a treat because within a minute of the restart, we equalised through Dennis Dressel.
A classy presence in midfield since he arrived, he showed his prowess in front of goal by heading Stephen Kelly’s corner back across goal into the net.
But we weren’t done there, ten minutes later, courtesy of another Kelly delivery, we were in front.
This time getting on the end of it was long-serving Tjorben Uphoff, bulleting a head in at the ‘keeper’s near post.
It was a brilliant moment, for both the club to come from behind to lead, but also for Tjorben, who has been playing most weeks since I took charge.
With victory from defeat in sight, the clock ticked down, but disaster struck in the 85th minute as Hrgota, our menace in the first half, snatched an equaliser for the hosts.
He dribbled past two before steadying himself and curling home from 25 yards out, a stunning way to earn a point after throwing away a comfortable lead.
Or so you would think because the Fürth relief slash delight at securing parity lasted a mere two minutes as we snatched three points almost direct from kickoff.
Falcao passed the ball backwards to Papadopoulos, who passed it between himself and Tjorben Uphoff a couple of times, an attempt to launch it forward was stopped and the hosts attempted a counter which was snuffed out by Müller.
He then fed it to Sidney Raebiger, who found Braydon Manu in the channel and after winning the ball back, pinged a cross in for Falcao to volley home the winner, sending the 357 Aachen fans and a half-cut Scottish manager delirious.
The game at Fürth would prove to be Sidney Raebiger’s final game as an Alemannia Aachen player after he was unceremoniously recalled from his loan by parent club RB Leipzig because I wasn’t playing him as a centre mid, but as 10, where he had been performing well and I couldn’t justify dropping either Dennis Dressel or Stephen Kelly, who have been excellent.
Sid made six appearances for us, scoring once and collecting one player of the match award.
The abrupt way we lost Sidney, as well as a brewing injury crisis meant that for the home game with Heidenheim, we had to give a rare start to precocious talent Bobby Carroll. He performed fine, but others did not, and very poor performance was the result of being so suddenly disjointed.
The game finished 1-1, Antonios Papadopoulos, a late arrival on a free owing to the lack of numbers in defence, getting the equaliser three minutes after Heidenheim had taken the lead.
A result that does neither us nor them a favour, with their long-term manager being under serious pressure.
With an injury crisis now really starting to bite, two new signings came in for the visit to ominously good Ingolstadt.
Nigel Lonwijk is a centre-half who can also play at right-back and was released at the end of the previous season by Wolves in England.
Those of you who have followed my Partick Thistle save will know that I signed Nigel to great effect in that save too, so here is hoping that continues.
He joins on a deal until the end of the season, with a one-year extension being automatically triggered if he plays ten games this season.
Also joining on the same terms as Nigel is versatile forward Eric Hottman.
Eric can play up front as well as on the right wing and joins us after two seasons at Türkgücü München, where he scored seven times in 27 games. Ostensibly, both are really just filling gaps with so many players both at the back and up top being out injured.
At the time of the Ingolstadt game, we were missing defenders Alexander Heinze and Marcel Damaschek as well as forwards Jannik Mause, Falcao and Timo Bornemann.
With so many absentees and such a makeshift feel to the team, it was no surprise that Ingolstadt feasted upon our weaknesses.
Stefan Kutschke grabbed a double, one goal in each half to put the game out of sight before Mitja Lotric added a third to finally kill us off.
Basti Schmitt, who came off the bench to replace Selim Gunduz, who went off, you guessed it, injured, grabbed a consolation goal with ten minutes to go – but the hosts weren’t done as Lotric added his own second to complete a comprehensive defeat.
October concluded with a cup tie against struggling fellow 2. Bundesliga opposition in the form of Hansa Rostock, clearly emboldened with the state of our list of injuries, they started strongly.
That strong start paid off for the visitors when Svante Ingelsson gently dinked the ball over Joshua Mroß to complete a fine counter-attacking move.
Despite the depleted numbers, I was determined to stay with my positive plan for the game and told them to, in no uncertain terms, get their arses in gear.
And that light a fire under them approach paid dividends in the 53rd when Falcao, making his return from injury, grabbed a deserved equaliser.
Basti Schmitt hit the byline before crossing low for the Brazilian to tuck home from inside the six-yard box.
Despite our best efforts, no goals followed in the remainder of the second half, nor were there any in either half of extra time, meaning penalties would decide which 2. Bundesliga side would reach the last 16 of the Pokal.
The early advantage went our way when Jan-Niklas Beste saw his penalty saved after Jannik Mause, another injury returnee had converted our first kick.
Julian Schwermann, Ampomah for Hansa, Christian Gartner, and Martens for Hansa would all convert, as did Falcao and Andreas Wiegel for Hansa.
Knowing a successful kick would put us through, the pressure on Braydon Manu was huge and, regrettably, he ensured the shootout would continue when Jorn Vancamp converted, meaning it went to sudden death.
Marco Müller stepped up to take our next penalty and showed no fear, meaning the pressure was all on Hansa’s Calogero Rizzuto to keep them in the cup.
Rizzuto’s effort was tame and straight down the middle, easy for Mroß to block and send us through to the next round of the cup, which will be played in February after checking the calendar.
We would have to wait a few days into November before finding out our opponents in the Last 16, and there was a collective “ooh” when FC Bayern came out of the hat first, but the buzz was short-lived as they were paired with fellow Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld.
The excitement went up again as we were the very next team out and there was delight in the room when our opponents came out of the hat.
That brings October to an end, join me next month for more Kartoffel Kapers!
September opened up with two of the toughest fixtures of the season as we took on two of the three sides relegated from the Bundesliga in the last campaign in Bochum and Freiburg.
Ultimately, we were given something of a reality check as our unbeaten record fell, what could easily have been a much heavier defeat at the hands of a Bochum side still trying to find consistency after relegation.
Michael Gregoritsch’s 32nd-minute goal was enough for all three points, but a heroic performance from Joshua Mroß in goal kept it from being a brutal day at the office, his efforts earning him a place in the Team of the Week despite our loss.
An international break followed the Bochum defeat, with a chance for us to rest up some key players while one or two jetted off to play at different age groups across Europe.
It gave me a chance to check in on Scotland, whose performance in qualifying for the 2024 European Championships, to be held in Germany isn’t quite going to plan despite what most Scottish fans would call a “decent” group of Azerbaijan, Croatia, Slovenia and Wales.
A 1-0 defeat in March to Croatia opened the campaign, while they were left scrambling to share the points against Slovenia at Hampden in June, a late goal from Ryan Christie ensuring the spoils were shared.
That result was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff, hardly ideal.
This international break brought positives, though, as Croatia were beaten 1-0 at Hampden Park to make it look like they had finally woken up.
But it was followed days later by a 2-2 draw against Azerbaijan, surrendering a 2-0 lead, meaning the aspirations of reaching Germany are pretty much gone.
With nine points to play for, Scotland sit second bottom of their group, six points adrift of the surprise pacesetters, Slovenia.
Upon the resumption of festivities after the international break, the visit to Tivoli of Freiburg was the first in a hectic schedule that saw us play four games in a fortnight.
Luckily, the lads were suitably rested, as we aimed to avoid another abject performance against another freshly relegated side performing below expectations so far this season, although Freiburg have it worse than Bochum currently do.
The Black Forest-dwelling visitors came into the game sitting in the bottom three, a huge surprise given they were tipped for an immediate return to the top flight alongside the other big name in the division, Werder Bremen.
It was Freiburg who had the first real chance when Jannik Haberer’s header clipped the top of the crossbar from a corner taken by Ian Maatsen.
And it would be into the second half before we had a chance of our own, some great work down the right flank by Julian Schwermann found Timo Bornemann in plenty of space, only for him to slam his shot hard into the side netting when it looked easier to score.
But just when it seemed that the game was destined to end goalless, we grabbed all three points courtesy of a strike from 20 yards from Sidney Raebiger.
Sidney joined on deadline day from RB Leipzig and had impressed on international duty with the German Under-21s, earning him a start in place of Christian Gartner – and his contribution could not have been more timely.
Far from a classic, but glad to have won it for sure.
After three points out of a possible six so far, three more than I was honestly anticipating, I was buzzing ahead of our next match against fellow promoted side, Holstein Kiel.
It was the first of three games in a week and despite the temptation to tinker and make changes with the run of games, I decided not to, which was probably a factor in the resulting 0-0 draw where our defenders played significantly better than our forward players. The home side were at the races for much more of the game than we were, despite us making a late run at what would have been stealing the points, it finished level.
File under forgettable, onto HanSa RoStock next.
Hansa Rostock and their creepy group of right-wing weirdo fans were up next for us at home in the second of these three games in a week, an example of what the Germans call an Englische Woche, where playing in midweek either side of two weekends is uncommon.
Anyway, I made one change from the drab draw in Kiel, with Braydon Manu replacing Falcao on the left side of our attack.
It took just eight minutes for us to unlock the visitor’s defence, an utterly filthy disguised through ball curled its way to Dennis Dressel from Stephen Kelly, and the former made no mistake.
Rostock almost had an equaliser on the quarter of the hour, rather appropriately finding joy down the right wing, only for Sven Schipplock’s head to glance just wide of our goal.
This was followed by them coming even closer five minutes later when Jan-Niklas Beste had a shot turned onto the post by Joshua Mroß, who didn’t quite pounce on the ball immediately in a rare moment of tension.
It was almost 2-0 in the 24th minute, great work carrying the ball forward and keeping the opposition penned in by firstly Dennis Dressel then Teddy Alloh, up from the back led to Sidney Raebiger being teed up, only for his Exocet of a shot crash against the post and away from danger.
Five minutes after the interval, we struck the woodwork again looking to further our lead, with Timo Bornemann being denied by the post following a header from a deep cross by Selim Gunduz.
For the second time this season, we were subject to a VAR intervention when Timo Bornemann raced clear and was brought down in the box, the referee initially gave the penalty before the decision was overturned at the behest of the official.
There was time for one final chance to extend the lead beyond one, but Basti Schmitt was denied from close range by Manuel Riemann.
A win that was more comfortable than expected or it sounded given the quick turnaround in games at the moment.
A hectic month concluded with a second home game in four days as another of the German Football old guard, so to speak came to Tivoli in the shape of 1. FC Nürnberg.
FCN are among Germany’s most iconic (and successful) teams, having won nine German titles, the last of them coming in 1968 and four German Cups, winning that for the most recent time in 2007. They came to us looking to overtake us in the league, and would ultimately be successful as we capitulated, getting my entire tactical plan for the game completely wrong.
The visitors took the lead in the 39th minute when Philipp Ochs slid in at the back post to convert Adam Gnezda Cerin’s ball across our six-yard box.
Early in the second half and Ochs would be on target for a second time, ghosting in at the back post to slot home from a Chris Führich cutback.
A convincing win and abject performance looked like turning into a rout moments later when Robert Glatzel made it 3-0 after Jonas Meffert’s cross was badly cleared by Antonios Papadopoulos right into the path of the onrushing Glatzel to make no mistake from inside the box.
The poor quality of the third goal we conceded seemed to rouse us somewhat, as we pulled a goal back through Timo Bornemann, who was very unfortunate not to score in the two previous games.
Stephen Kelly’s pinpoint cross found Bornemann at the back post to provide scant consolation on a bad day at the office for us.
A hectic, but disappointing end to September leaves the table in the 2. Bundesliga looking like this: