Summer isn’t the traditional season for a pantomime performance, but St. Pauli held theirs during the days following the end of last season. Manager André Schubert had taken the club to 4th place in the final standings of the 2.Bundesliga in the 2011/12 campaign, having taken on the unenviable task of replacing Millerntor legend Holger ‘Stani’ Stanislawski. In the end Schubert’s team had struggled towards the end of the season, and missed out on the playoff place on goal difference. It wasn’t just the disappointment of missing out on the chance of promotion though that had raised doubts over Schubert, media rumours had circulated saying he had upset several members of the squad with his abrupt style of man management. It looked almost certain that Schubert would be sacked, but for whatever reason the board seemed to change their minds at the last minute and decide to stick, rather than twist.
Schubert sought to stamp his mark on a side he had largely inherited from Stani, bringing in Mohr and Gonther from his old side Paderborn. St. Pauli lost Max Kruse during the summer, the attacking midfielder earning a deserved move to the Bundesliga with Freiburg after a great 11/12 campaign. Carlos Zambrano was sold to Eintracht Frankfurt, Lasse Sobiech returned to Dortmund after his loan spell and Moritz Volz left on a free transfer to join 1860 Munich. But Schubert managed to acquire a number of loan signings, with young wingers Akaki Gogia (Wolfsburg) and Joseph Gyau (Hoffenheim) joining alongside Daniel Ginczek (Dortmund) and Christophere Avevor (Hannover).
The season didn’t start well though for Schubert. The manager changed the style of play and formation for the team, lining up with a 4-4-2 and an emphasis on attacking, but a 0-0 draw away at Aue was followed up by a slow performance at home, where St. Pauli were held 1-1 by Ingolstadt. A 3-0 cup victory over Offenburger in 40c heat did nothing to cool the pressure on Schubert, and questions were raised when the club then travelled to Energie Cottbus and were outplayed in every department. The 2-0 scoreline didn’t tell the story of an unacceptable performance.
The team responded from the poor defeat in Cottbus, with their first victory coming at home to Sandhausen in a decent 2-1 victory. After the international break, St. Pauli then travelled to Köln, who had also struggled in the opening weeks of the season under the familiar face of Holger Stanislawski. St. Pauli were solid enough in Köln but were struggling to create chances going forward and ended up settling for a 0-0 draw. Schubert had talked about his strike-force and scoring plenty of goals during pre-season, but the team looked unorganised and disjointed in the opening weeks, with very little attacking chances created.
The last week of September brought about ‘English week’ in the Bundesliga, named such because it is a rare occurance of 3 games in a week. Schubert started the week, but following defeat at FSV Frankfurt and a dismal 1-0 defeat at home to newly promoted Aalen, he was sacked and didn’t even make it to the end of English week.
Schubert left the Millerntor with the club languishing in the relegation zone and fans starting to worry about the threat of relegation. The gamble by the board hadn’t worked, and Schubert’s reshuffle of the squad and reforming of the tactics hadn’t either.
Thomas Meggle was placed in temporary charge for the final game of “English week”, a Friday evening trip to Jahn Regensburg. Meggle immediately changed the formation back to a 4-5-1 formation, but it was to no avail. St. Pauli were poor, and the newly promoted side were deserved 3-0 winners.
The club’s board and sporting director Rachid Azzouzi stepped up the search for a new manager, desperate to halt the decline. Michael Frontzeck, who had previously managed Aachen, Bielefeld and Monchengladbach was appointed within days. It was decided though that Meggle would again take charge for the upcoming game against Union Berlin, with Frontzeck taking a back seat and giving him more time to work with the players during the impending international break.
Frontzeck watched from the stands as his new side were unlucky to only gain a point against the side from the capital. The team put in the best performance of the season so far, but two incredible goals from Union’s Mattuschka gave the away side a point.
Frontzeck then officially became manager, giving him two weeks and a couple of friendly matches to work with the squad during the international break. The team won both friendly games against Greuther Fürth and SC Wiener Viktoria, so went into the away trip to Paderborn with renewed confidence under the new coach. Unfortunately, an old face came back to haunt St. Pauli in Frontzeck’s first game in charge. Frontzeck opted with a 4-5-1 formation, with Daniel Ginczek named as the lone striker. St. Pauli were the better side, and had the better of the chances. Ginczek gave them the lead just after half-time, but then sat back on their lead and were punished by a great finish from substitute Deniz Naki. It should have been an away win, with St. Pauli having plenty of chances to win the game late on, but failing to find the winner.
Next up was the visit of Dynamo Dresden to the Millerntor for Frontzeck’s home debut. St. Pauli were losing 2-0 after 30 minutes, and looked down and out. But a Fabian Boll goal on the stroke of half time gave the side a bit of optimism, and they came out for the second half fighting. The impressive Avevor got the equaliser shortly after half-time, and the come-back was completed minutes later with Ginczek finding the net again. St. Pauli could have had more and were deserved 3-2 winners, their first victory in almost 2 months.
After good performances against Union Berlin and Paderborn, and victory against Dresden, the side then travelled for a 3rd round cup tie against Stuttgart, who were also experiencing an upturn in form following a poor start to the season. Stuttgart’s class showed, and they were comfortable 3-0 winners. The away end was rocking though despite the score, with a jovial atmosphere before, during and after the game.
St. Pauli’s main concern though was the league, and despite 5 points from 3 games, they were still in a precarious position. A trip to 1860 Munich wasn’t the easiest fixture to face at the end of a busy week, particularly with a number of injuries and suspensions hampering the squad. Frontzeck made six changes, but it didn’t matter. St. Pauli were dominant, looking like a completely different side to the one that had suffered defeats against Aalen and Regensburg a month ago. St. Pauli were 2-0 winners, with Boll and then Ginczek again finding the net.
Struggling Bochum were the next team to visit the Millerntor, and gained a point rather fortuitously. Daniel Ginczek was on the score sheet for the 4th successive game since the arrival of Frontzeck, but St. Pauli couldn’t take their chances to extend their lead and were punished. A Bochum free-kick resulted in a goal for the away side, the ball hitting the back of Dabrowski and deflected in at the near post. Although the unbeaten run continued, two points had been dropped.
The biggest test of Frontzeck’s reign came a week later, with a Monday evening trip to 2nd placed Hertha Berlin. The game was a tight affair, with St. Pauli happy to sit back and try to hit Hertha on the counter. Tschauner in the St. Pauli goal was in superb form, making several top quality saves to deny Hertha and the game looked to be heading for a goalless draw. But five minutes from the end, the home side made the break through. St. Pauli were again unlucky not to get a point though, on 88 minutes a corner was met by Schachten and seemed destined for the net, but Hertha defender Pekarik got his knees in the away and deflected the ball onto the post and out. 1-0, and the first league defeat for Frontzeck.
St. Pauli got over the disappointment of the defeat in Berlin with a comprehensive victory against Duisburg, who had been rocked by an injury crisis on the pitch and a financial crisis off it. Ginczek had given St. Pauli the lead, but Duisburg equalised in bizarre fashion right on half time. A seemingly hopeless cross bounced inside the box, and Kringe and Tschauner left it to each other to clear. Neither did, and it bounced straight into the goal. But St. Pauli were inspired by Fin Bartels who scored twice in the second half, and Mahir Saglik finished the game off late-on in a 4-1 victory.
November ended with another difficult away tie. A midweek trip to leaders Eintracht Braunschweig. St. Paul were missing leading scorer Ginczek, and early pressure from Braunschweig gave them an early lead after a good finish from Kumbela. It went from bad to worse for St. Pauli soon after, with Fin Bartels receiving a very harsh red-card for a seemingly hard but fair tackle. Without Ginczek the side didn’t really threaten going forward, but could have taken a point from the game after Gyau had a goal ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper. Avevor had gone for a 50-50 ball in the air with the goalkeeper, which the referee adjudged to have been a foul. It looked harsh, and was another example of a refereeing decision going against the boys in brown.
The fixture list didn’t get any easier for St. Pauli, with unbeaten Kaiserslautern next up at the Millerntor. For once, the luck was with St. Pauli. Kaiserslautern were denied on several occasions by a combination of the defence, Tschauner and the post. They could have had 2 or 3 goals in the first half, with St. Pauli barely threatening, but the game was 0-0 at half time. In the second half, the home side were much better, and made the break-through with a fortunate goal by Ginczek. A cross found him unmarked with an open goal to tap the ball in from four yards, but he sliced his shot and it hit the past – only to bounce straight back to him for him to finish it at the second attempt. The goal deflated the away side, and they were defeated for the first time this season.
The final home game of the season came against Aue, who St. Pauli had struggled against last season both home and away. The ‘bogey side’ had won 3-2 at the Millerntor last season, and picked up a similarly impressive victory this time. The game was almost called off due to snow on the pitch, and in hindsight perhaps it should have been. Over 300 volunteers helped clear the pitch and the stands from snow, and the game went ahead. The game was rather even during the first half, but in the second half Aue took their chances, whilst St. Pauli created chances but were unable to find the net. A 0-3 scoreline didn’t really reflect the game, but it was a severe wake-up call for Frontzeck and the coaching staff with the club not yet out of danger of relegation.
The final game of the first half of the season was an away trip to Ingolstadt. Ingolstadt were expected to do well this season having spent money during the summer, but they had struggled with consistency. St. Pauli were the better side and had a goal ruled out incorrectly for offside and couldn’t take their chances in the final third. Ingolstadt rarely troubled Tschauner, and would have been the happier of the two sides with the 0-0 full-time score.
St. Pauli therefore head into the winter break in 13th position on 22 points. 6 points ahead of Dynamo Dresden who occupy the play-off relegation place. If St. Pauli can continue their improved form since Frontzeck took over then they should have no worries about avoiding relegation, but the team must not get complacent. We need to improve our attacking options, with only 18 goals in 19 games, we are the only side to average less than a goal per game. We have created more goal-scoring opportunities than most teams in the league, but have failed to take our chances. Without the impressive form of Ginczek, we would be in deep trouble. Bartels has 4 goals, but Schindler, Gogia, and Buchtmann who have regularly occupied the other attacking options haven’t really looked like providing goals on a regular basis. This is surely something that Frontzeck will work on during the winter break, as he tries to make his own mark on the squad. With some improvement going forward we should finish comfortably in mid-table.