But once Filip Bilbija headed in Stefan Kutschke’s cross with just over half-an-hour played, the dream was over. Osnabrück were 2-1 up on the day, but having lost the first leg 3-0, the away goal left them needing to score another three.
A silence descended. Maybe not silent enough to hear a pin drop, but the difference was clear. The 2,000-strong crowd remained excitable, and Etienne Amenyido’s goal with ten minutes left gave them cause to dream again, but Ingolstadt, despite the scars of the past two years, managed the game well.
I could write now about how Osanbrück deserved to complete the turnaround and were robbed by the away goal rule – especially given the debate over that in the past few days. But given what I wrote about the ‘Relegation’ after the Kiel game it would be hypocritical.
That’s the thing though – when the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga sides meet, it is often a one-sided contest. As this tie has proved though, that is not the case when the 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga sides clash.
The ‘kleine Relegation’ has always been the more entertaining and unpredictable of the pair. Osnabrück’s attempted comeback this year has proved it, like the topsy–turvy nature of last year’s play-off, or going further back the classic between Darmstadt and Arminia Bielefeld in 2014.
Perhaps to keep that play-off drama, playing them between the teams that finish third and fourth – in both second and third tiers – would be fairer, although that would be little consolation in this case for Osnabrück.
It is a shame to lose them – when they’ve got it right over the past couple of seasons, they have played positive and attractive football, often fuelled last season, as in this game, by the boisterous Bremer Brücke crowd.
When it hasn’t gone well though, they have looked like a team out of their depth. They battled to get enough points last season to stay up after falling away in the second half of the season, helped no doubt by a strong first half.
This year they had less points in the bank, and the two late-season wins against Braunschweig and Hamburg were only enough for a play-off place. It’s hard to say they really deserved to stay up, in the grand scheme of things.
Ingolstadt returning to the second tier feels like a restoration to the club’s natural level, but Tomas Oral’s men don’t inspire the same emotions for the neutral that Osnabrück have done. They return with several survivors of the relegation team of 2019, and players like Marc Stendera add flare, but it is not expected they will light up the league with breath-taking football next season.
Nevertheless, for me at least, it’s nice to see them back. Even if it’s at Osnabrück’s expense.