St Pauli moved level on points with 2. Bundesliga league-leaders Eintracht Frankfurt and Greuther Fürth after punishing Energie Cottbus’ mistake-laden defence. The home side cannot stop shipping goals this season, but the worst part was that against St Pauli, they barely created enough chances to compensate for their numerous lapses in concentration at the back. Full credit to the visitors, though, who put in a disciplined performance on and off the ball, capping it by showing their top-flight credentials in front of goal.
The opening exchanges were a tad bitty, with both sides looking to use throw-ins from their respective second-third areas of the pitch for the lone strikers to flick on for a roving midfielder. However, fouls and poor clearances, passes and free-kick delivery kept possession going back and fore. Plus, with neither side under the kosh, the midfield and centre of the pitch area remained congested. The Cottbus defence were the first to try a bit of a deep melina in order to drag the visitors’ banks up the field and widen their corridors, but Pauli’s off-ball 4-4-2 barely pressed, and in the end, the sloppiness that pervaded this encounter in the early stages was epitomised by an underhit long-diagonal from Christopher Schorch, equalled only by Sebastian Schachten’s subsequent scoop-pass for Marius Ebbers, which rolled harmlessly to a grateful Thorsten Kirschbaum.
With both sides having suffered defeats last weekend, perhaps the caution was unsurprising and necessary. Added to that, André Schubert’s side were the visitors, so the onus wasn’t on them to attack, and Claus-Dieter Wollitz’s Cottbus have been very leaky at the back this season. As we went beyond the ten-minute mark, little had changed. The hosts’ centre-backs waited to be pressed, weren’t, and with piano-carrier Ivica Banović marked, resorted to aimless scoops up to Martin Fenin (none of which landed). St Pauli soon began to imitate the Cottbus melina at the back when their defenders got on the ball, and what made this take on the tactic stand out from normal teams who do it every week was that neither Schubert or Wollitz’s full-backs were in the opposition half – they joined in the side to side passing, fearful of leaving a gap that an opposition winger might exploit and use to bring this game to life.
After clearing a 13th minute Daniel Ziebig left-footed corner, St Pauli did at last try and make some positive passes in the midfield with some first-time interchange stuff through the centre-circle. However, they took so long to get this snappy sequence started, that Cottbus had ample time to flood back and swamp the necessary zones. Both teams weren’t opposed to using the occasional route one ball to their gangly striker, but Fenin was dropping deep too often with no one then behind him to receive the ball he’d laid-off neatly to a colleague, while Ebbers, although having Max Kruse or Dennis Daube constantly bobbing behind him, wasn’t winning enough balls in the air.
However, the game was at last turned on its head in the 18th minute, and unsurprisingly, Cottbus’ dodgy defence were to blame for what feels like the umpteenth week in a row. A left-sided corner was swung in right-footed towards the back post, giving an unmarked Ralph Gunesch the simple task of heading towards goal. His bouncer landed kindly for Schachten, standing in front of the ‘keeper, and able to ensure that the ball went in the net with a more powerful header. The away side had the lead!
1-0 down, the Cottbus defence was suddenly forced into being more adventurous with their passing, and the midfield had to start making runs and bobbing higher up the pitch. This played right into the hands of the visitors, who had four nimble attacking midfielders in the bank behind Ebbers. Nevertheless, most of their breaks in the ten-minute period contested after the goal saw them play cautious keep-ball in the Cottbus half, thereby ensuring that every player in red was dragged back into their own half and forced to chase the ball.
As we entered the half’s final 15 minutes, the home side had improved. Banović was demonstrating his leadership qualities; looking for give and go moves, running the ball himself into the final-third, and even taking shots on goal. His 17-year-old colleague, Leonardo Bittencourt, had also begun to show why he’s so highly-rated, getting inside his full-back and reaching the byline in the 32nd minute, The subsequent pull-back to Fenin’s diagonal dart was played with the perfect weight and precision, but the Czech Republic striker blew the opportunity by taking the right-footed tap-in – Philipp Tschauner could only stand there and watch, such was the pace of the attack – far too casually and dragging it wide.
On and off the ball, Schubert’s St Pauli put in a very disciplined performance in the first 45 minutes. With regards to the latter, they pressed diligently in their own half, keeping their banks and narrowing the angles all the while. They did the give ball away rather needlessly once twice, but then, more often than not the only reason they’d regained control of possession was through Cottbus’ own sloppiness. The hosts nearly punished a heavy-handed Markus Thorandt in the 42nd minute, when his shove on Fenin won Cottbus a decently-placed free-kick. However, Banović curled the effort straight at Tschauner, and the half looked to be petering to a close thereafter.
Perhaps Cottbus should have let it do just that so they could get in and discuss how to overturn a 1-0 losing situation with their coach. But, they continued to haphazardly commit men forward, and from the second Fin Bartels counter-attack in the space of a minute, the left-winger slipped in Max Kruse’s overlapping run, allowing the centre-midfielder to blast in for 2-0!
Florian Bruns took the place of the quiet Kevin Schindler for the second half, and this instigated a few positional changes; Bartels going to the right-side of midfield, and Bruns to the left wing. The impressive Kruse continued to cause trouble for Cottbus and disrupt their game in the opening exchanges of the new half, working his socks off to press the man on the ball or make a run upfield to support a counter-attacking winger, and using cleared home side set-pieces as opportunities to hit long-diagonal break-starting passes.
The hosts started the half in a far more urgent and dangerous manner than they had adopted at any point during the first 45 minutes. The centre-backs and full-backs had no time for melina now, with any one of the four defenders dribbling the ball into the St Pauli half and looking to make the most inventive and incisive pass possible. Up front, Fenin at last had bodies running to him, with him or behind him, and this greater thrust forced the visiting defence into a number of excellent, last-ditch in-box tackles.
Farcical scenes in the 57th minute saw electric and sometimes unstoppable winger Bartels involved in a scrap with two Cottbus players; angered by his habit of going too ground too easily for their liking. First, we saw shoving between 24-year-old Bartels and Bittencourt, before Christian Müller stormed over and shoved Bartels to the ground. The game’s 31-year-old referee, Christian Dingert, showed both Bartels and Müller, only four years younger than the man in the middle, a yellow card.
The game remained niggly for the duration of the second half, with Cottbus pressing high and hard all over the pitch. St Pauli continued to intelligently mix up their attacks, doing some at searing pace and looking to shoot as soon as possible, and biding their time and winding the clock down on others. In the 64th minute, the latter tactic saw an opening created for Schachten, who drew a good save from Kirschbaum. With just over 20 minutes to play, Wollitz made a double substitution. Off came the ineffectual Rok Kronaveter and Alexander Bittroff, and on came Jules Reimerink and Alexander Ludwig.
Cottbus’ back four was no more, as all-out attack was now the only item on the agenda (Schorch was a right-sided centre-back-cum-right-back, Ludwig the inside-right, Müller the right winger and Reimerink on the left). Their forays forward were constantly met by nigh-on impenetrable St Pauli banks, forcing numerous sideways-passing sequences, pot-shots (Schorch went closer than anyone in the 75th minute, drawing a tip round the post from Tschauner) and frustrated jogs towards the halfway line into pockets of space from the creative midfielders.
The away side should have put the game to bed in the 76th minute, when they went on a three-on-two counter-attack. Led, as ever, by Kruse, the midfielder let himself down for a change by making the wrong pass – Bruns, on his left, was in more space, whereas the midfielder’s pass to Ebbers on his right saw the striker clumsily lose possession. However, Schubert didn’t have to rue that missed opportunity for too long, as Ebbers made it 3-0 just three minutes later. Pauli had numbers and possession in the box, and when the ball was pulled back for Fabian Boll in the D, the veteran midfielder cannily headed to his striking colleague standing in between the static centre-backs. Ebbers made no mistake, and Pauli had a 3-0 lead!
Boll was replaced by Fabio Morena after the goal, as Schubert looked to attach another bolt to the door. But, his side’s concentration seemed to fade a little with a three-goal lead, and Ludwig’s diving header from a Reimerink cross saw the winning margin reduced to two goals with just eight minutes left to play! However, the ‘fightback’ lasted all of five minutes, as Ebbers, cast on his right arm and all, was allowed to jog through four red-shirted players in the six-yard box to head in a left-footed Florian Bruns near-post inswinging corner for 4-1! Substitute Mahir Saglik should have made it 5-1 in injury time, but chipped over, although try making Schubert care about that. His opposite number, Wollitz, however, has big problems.