Sunday 24 February 2019. Hamburger SV, top of the 2. Bundesliga, travel to Jahn Regensburg to avenge a 5-0 home defeat earlier in the season. David Bates gave them the lead, but two goals in the last 20 minutes condemn Hannes Wolf’s side to just a second defeat of the year. They bounce back with wins against Fürth and St. Pauli, but then don’t win until a 3-0 final day victory over Duisburg, with hopes of promotion ended the week before by Paderborn.
Saturday 22 February 2020. Derby day. Hamburg, second in the table and unbeaten in 2020, host city rivals St. Pauli. The visitors were looking for a first double over HSV in 60 years and they got it with first half goals from Henk Veerman and Matt Penney.
Worse was to follow a week later when ten men collapsed against Erzgebirge Aue and Dieter Hecking’s side would win just three more times. They were humiliated 5-1 by Sandhausen on the final days to end hopes of clawing a play-off after a shock late defeat to Heidenheim the week before.
Sunday 21 February 2021. League leaders Hamburg, now under Daniel Thioune, go to bottom club Würzburger Kickers. Although only top on goal difference, the Red Shorts were big favourites to win against a side struggling to adapt to the second tier, despite some promising performances in recent weeks.
Early in the second half, a shambolic Hamburg find themselves 3-0 down to a Kickers side playing their game of the season. Thioune’s men claw two goals back through Jeremy Dudziak and Bobby Wood (yes, Bobby Wood!), but are unable to salvage anything from the game. What happens next remains to be decided but history has a habit of repeating itself when it comes to HSV in the 2. Bundesliga.
All three of their seasons so far have following a similar pattern. Come out of the traps flying, wobble in the autumn before recovering either side of Christmas, then the results start drying up and they lose all sense of control and throw away promotion. The spectre of St. Pauli, who they face next week, is an ever-present as this critical phase of the season as well, whether they beat them or not.
There was another familiar pattern here too. With Toni Leistner still injured and Stephan Ambrosius suspended, Thioune switched to a back three to compensate for the loss of his key defensive duo. They have played this system, with some success, earlier in the season, but it is also a dangerous tactic given what has happened in the past couple of seasons.
A switch to a back three has become a symptom of panic. Last season, with form deserting his team at the vital moment, Hecking switched to a back three for the penultimate game against Heidenheim, which they lost 2-1, and it was retained as they collapsed to Sandhausen a week later.
A similar thing happened the year before as well. Wolf set up his team with a back three for games against Magdeburg, Union Berlin and Paderborn in the final run-in. All three games were lost, with the 4-1 defeat to a rampant Paderborn ending their hopes of promotion.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, perhaps the team were unsettled by the change of approach, but Hamburg put in a rotten performance with the new 3-4-2-1 set up, with Jan Gyamerah, Gideon Jung and Tim Leibold responsible for each of the goals and Sven Ulreich far off the goalkeeper that briefly threatened to usurp Manuel Neuer for club and country.
The seeds for the all-too-familiar late-season collapse may have been sown here, and it doesn’t help that the result comes after a week of unrest off the pitch, with club president Marcell Jansen and his deputies Moritz Schaefer and Thomas Schulz resigning in unison over months of disagreement over the future direction of the club.
How Thioune and his side react to this latest setback, which despite leading the table leaves them with just one win in five, will be decisive. There’s a good chance they will lose the leadership to Holstein Kiel, or Fürth, when the two play on Monday night, followed a week later by the derby. Following that, they play both Kiel and Bochum in the space of four days.
If they make it out of those trio of games top of the table and still in one piece, then this could finally be their year. If they don’t, we all know what happens next.
▪ That Hamburg are still top as it is has a lot to do with FC Erzgebirge Aue. Their home form came to the fore as a gritty 1-0 win against VfL Bochum, who would have gone top with a point, with Gaëtan Bussmann heading in the only goal. The top three are all level on 42 points and Fürth will join them if they beat Kiel in the final game of the matchday. Any other result will see Kiel go three points clear at the top. Both sides will be without key players due to injuries and suspensions.
▪ German football remembered the first anniversary of the terrorist attack in Hanau, where nine were killed in an attack on two shisha bars by a far-right extremist. FC St. Pauli and SV Darmstadt 98 went a step further than most, holding a banner with the names and faces of those who died in a moment of reflection before kick-off. Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, Kaloyan Velkov. Say their names.
▪ Despite those solemn proceedings beforehand, the two sides then played out the game of the weekend, with Darmstadt coming from 2-0 down to level up before Guido Burgstaller scored his second of the game and eighth in seven games. Whilst it made perfect sense for Schalke to offload the Austrian to die Kiezkicker in the summer, his current form and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s injury problems will only increase the sellers’ remorse at the Veltins-Arena with the derby defeat sinking them ever closer to the second tier.
▪ There was farce as Hannover 96 they prepared to face Fortuna Düsseldorf. Strikers Marvin Ducksch and Hendrik Weydandt looked set to miss the game with hamstring and calf problems respectively, however a trip to Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt in Munich confirmed some shocking news – neither was actually injured! Nevertheless, with neither having trained, only Ducksch could play a part on Sunday, playing the last 30 minutes as his side lost 3-2 against ten-man Düsseldorf.
FC Erzgebirge Aue 1-0 VfL Bochum
Eintracht Braunschweig 2-0 SSV Jahn Regensburg
VfL Osnabrück 1-2 1. FC Heidenheim
SC Paderborn 07 2-1 SV Sandhausen
FC St. Pauli 3-2 SV Darmstadt 98
Fortuna Düsseldorf 3-2 Hannover 96
Karlsruher SC 0-1 1. FC Nürnberg
Würzburger Kickers 3-2 Hamburger SV
SpVgg Greuther Fürth vs Holstein Kiel (Monday)