Slightly delayed match review…
One of the most highly anticipated fixtures for St Pauli was the opening game of the 16/17 season was the opening game away to Stuttgart. A truly massive game to kick off the season was hosted at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. A nearly full 61,000 capacity stadium anticipated a tense affair between a Stuttgart team who have plenty of quality, but will have the pressure to succeed this season hanging on their shoulders, take on Hamburgs’ boys in brown who surely want to prove that their fight will push them higher than the 4th place they finished in the last campaign.
The atmosphere pre-game really did set the tone for the opening minutes of the match. Both teams riding on the electric support coming from both sets of fans. St Pauli the team who chased first, closing down an almost unsure Stuttgart team. No real instant threats coming from either team as the first 10 minutes ticked past. Of the two teams one player instantly looked full of energy and wanted to test an unconvincing opposing defence. Picault, always on the move was seeking the ball and trying to frustrate early on was given more than enough time to show his agility. In the 13th minute, the American international who featured in America’s friendly against Puerto Rico in May, leaped challenging Stuttgart’s Klein who went down holding his head. A corner was won following the aerial duel, once again Picault was the man leaping, though not quite making contact. He chased the ball he missed, showing another burst of desire. The home team had to deal with their holding midfielder being booked in the 17th minute as Hosogai was shown a harsh yellow for a late foul. A very tacky opening to the game, with neither team claiming ownership of the game so far. The first real chance coming in the 22nd minute of play as what seemed to look like a clearance almost put Stuttgart’s new boy Terrode through on goal following young centre half Zeireis’ ill-timed header. The 28 year old couldn’t manage to slot his low attempt past a calm Himmelmann, who deflected the shot with ease. St Pauli’s Zeireis very lucky as not only did his mistake not consequent to anything in the form of a goal, his slight tugging of his opponents shirt went unnoticed. The away team having the edge on the game but only due to the fact that they had closed down their opponents the quickest.
Then in the 27th minute, a wonderfully guided pass from Sobota out wide to the troublesome Picault found Stuttgart chasing. With a slight showing of his pace Picault was able to nudge past the seemingly nervous back line of the recently relegated Bundesliga side. A wicked ball fizzed in towards the Moroccan man on his Debut, Bouhaddouz, who was left a near open goal as the pace of the cross seemed to catch Langerak off-guard. Bouhaddouz only had to guide the ball into the back of the net, and with a controlled first time volley from the shin of the target man, the ball nestled much to the joy of the fans from the away end in the top left corner of the goal. Picault, once again showing his agility and receiving a well deserved assist for his efforts. Bouhaddouz, more than happy to be able to claim a goal within the opening 30 minutes of his debut.
The next 10 minutes consisted of the same uncertainty which kicked off the game. Kalla picked up a yellow card for a late challenge. Neither of the teams really managing to gather any time at all with the ball. After several duels in the middle of the pitch, Stuttgart developed a frustration with not really having any solid, direct threats to the St Pauli goal and gave away a free kick wide of the pitch. Buchtmann, hooked a ball in with his left foot and the goalscorer again found himself an opportunity to impress the travelling fans. Unfortunately for them, Bouhaddouz’ towering header was put only inches wide from the top right corner, despite being free to tuck the ball away, or at least on target. He could have done better, however, Stuttgart were beginning to look very uneasy. The home fans were even more concerned only moments later when Ex- RB Salzburg full back, Klein directed a pass back to unprepared team mate Sama, who out the corner of his eye saw Picault lurking. Caught flat footed, Sama could only push the tricky forward out wide, but as he wriggled between the remaining Stuttgart defence he managed to find Bouhaddouz. The new signing from SV Sandhausen was unlucky once again as he saw his first time shot roll beyond Langerak, only to hit the post and run parallel to the goal line. Bouhaddouz more unfortunate this time, as he was rushed by a swarm of incoming Stuttgart defenders. The home fans now becoming impatient. 5 minutes before the end of the half the home fans did have something to cheer about, only to find themselves more frustrated. Nehrig carelessly brought down Insua whilst pressing out wide, thus giving away a free kick. The ball whipped in by Ozcan, was instantly removed by the defending team, however, the second ball in found the head of Sama who attacked the ball as it was lifted in. The result found the ball in the back of the net, but celebrations were cut short as Sama was found to be only a footstep offside. It remained 1-0 to the visitors as the whistle blew, signifying the end of the first half.
As both teams walked out for the second half, the team in white had to up the quality of their play in order to get something from this so far frustrating game for them. Maxim on at half time. A decision made by new boss Luhukay in what must have been a bid to add more creativity to the home team, who already ooze quality in their squad. The Romanian international instantly added a spark to the team as 57 minutes in he got a shot away in the box, after giving the St Pauli defence a run around. He didn’t quite test Himmelmann, but alarm bells were starting to ring for St Pauli as the shot just fizzes wide.
The away team clearly looking a lot more stretched this half as Sobota puts in more a defensive performance than the fans coming from Hamburg would like. St Pauli were definitely going to have a lot of work to do defensively, as from a corner shortly after the Maxim chance, Sama once again rose in the air to beat everyone. His chance however, only deflecting off the frame of the goal. It was a chaotic next 5 minutes as both teams pushed aiming to silence any chance of success. Picault, who had been chasing everything in the earlier part of the game continued, as if to give his team mates precious seconds to rebuild.
25 minutes from the end St Pauli gained a corner from a Nehrig shot. Zeireis and others from the back line went up aiming to seal a precious second goal. Due to their offensive layout, as the ball was cleared, Stuttgart saw an opportunity to counter. Maxim found himself on the half way line with yards to burn, as he looked for support he saw that Terrode was just out of reach. The 26 year old on his 3rd year at Stuttgart tried his luck for the second time, thus again bending a shot, this time succeeding past Himmelmann. Zeireis, diving in an attempt to block the shot, stretched but couldn’t get a toe to guide the ball away from the net. Stuttgart were level. Following the celebrations Ozcan was replaced by the Ukrainian, Tashchy.
Miyaichi made a substitute appearance for Picault in the 68th minute, following moments later goal scorer Bouhaddouz left the pitch and was replaced by Dudziak. A statement that potentially Lienen, maybe was happy at this stage to take a draw or at most catch Stuttgart on the counter with that added pace. A free kick in the 78th minute was the first chance in a while that St Pauli really posed a threat from. A great delivery whipped in from Buchtmann on the left. Sobiech met the ball, but didn’t really challenge Ex-Dortmund’s Langerak who captured the ball at a comfortable height. Nehrig was brought off 10 minutes before the end. Having already been yellow carded and fatigued, Gonther was the replacement. From this point on it was more a case of ‘parking the bus’ for the away team who would have been happy to go back to Hamburg receiving a point in this difficult opening fixture, despite going a goal up.
With only 3 minutes until the 90, Stuttgart pushed to steal all 3 points. Tashche whipped in a ball from the right which risen above all in the box. The mischievous Maxim collected the ball from the edge of the box and gathered enough composure to lay the ball to Insua. The Argentina international went for the shot but unintentionally found Gentner awaiting at the back post, and much to St Pauli’s misfortune, all Gentner had to do was guide the ball into the partially open net, of which he did. Zeireis, already not having the best of games, nearly invited Terrode to a debut goal with only minutes to spare. He attempted to head the ball to Himmelmann, but not seeing the pouncing forward almost handed it to the man who scored 28 goals in the last term for VFL Bochum. The frustrated St Pauli keeper, Himmelmann, punched the ball away. Just as the 2 minutes added time was announced Maxim again had one final chance. Similar to his first attempt and his goal, the hot footed play maker stepped into the box and nabbed a shot away. Himmelmann seeing the ball late only just managed to flick the ball away. St Pauli, lucky to not concede a third. After the 2 minutes were played the whistle went and a loud cheer and sigh of relief from the majority of the 61,000 fans inside the Mercedes-Benz arena concluded the affair.
It was evident that it was a game of two halves. If Bouhaddouz had taken his chances in the first half then the home team would have had a mammoth task to turn the game around. I think that defensively St Pauli were under-par. Zeireis, more so than Sobiech was struggling all game, but it could have been a lot worse had Terrode been more lively. The player who I think really disappointed me was Nehrig. Sloppy in possession, not creating and giving away tedious fouls were starting to frustrate me. I would like to say that positively, I think Picault had a great game, especially in the first 30 when he terrorised Sama. Buchtmann’s passing quality was good, alongside a couple of his set pieces, but I feel there wasn’t enough creativity coming from the centre of the field. I can’t say Bouhaddouz had a bad game, it would be harsh to say that as he got an important goal. But still, he could have had at least two more if he took his chances. He was unlucky, which is why I can’t say anything negative but in the second half especially, we didn’t see anything of him. In terms of what I would like to see in the next game which is home to Eintracht Braunschweig, I feel that as an attacking force, St Pauli need to be more direct and including the likes of Sobota who we know has plenty to offer.
In terms of the result of the game. I think the Stuttgart fans will be happy to get a result looking from their perspective, especially from how they were doing at half time. I think it was a nervous performance from their players and once they included Maxim, he really was a game changer, one who could not only offer more in terms of taking the ball and taking it forward, but was a direct goal threat throughout the last 45 minutes. Stuttgart fans I feel will still be unconvinced by this performance and will be asking more in the next few weeks. The result as a win or draw really would have been a positive one for St Pauli, as they were in a difficult opening game. Competing against a giant team like Stuttgart who have so much quality in their team, not to mention the amount of money they have is always going to be a struggle, so I think it would be hard to criticize the away team for losing. This is one of the hardest fixtures for the boys in brown, and I don’t think they should be too disheartened. They’ll be disappointed that they hadn’t taken the points they could have, but it’s a tough team to break down.