The Kleeblätter-Kurier: a satisfactory half-term report, and time for some celebratory Trinks

There may be two more games before things close down in the 2. Bundesliga for the Winterpause, but with the conclusion of this week’s matches the halfway point of the second division’s season has arrived. SpVgg Greuther Fürth have overcome a few sticky patches to make their way up to a current second place berth in the 2. Bundesliga table, just a point behind leaders 1. FC Köln.

With ten wins from their seventeen games, Frank Kramer’s side have secured the most three-point hauls, but will no doubt reflect on several of their five defeats. That said, should the second half of the season pan out in a similar fashion to the first, the men in green and white will be making a swift return back to the top flight – with perhaps the added pleasure of seeing struggling local rivals 1. FC Nürnberg head back down the other way.

At the end of the last report, Fürth would be sitting in top spot with just one defeat, three points clear of Köln. Their next game against strugglers Fortuna Düsseldorf – coached by a certain Mike Büskens – should have on paper returned at least a point, but having taken the lead on the fifteen-minute mark through a Florian Trinks free-kick things would quickly be turned on their head. During a three-minute spell inside the first ten minutes of the second half, Dutch striker Charlison Benschop twice found the back of Wolfgang Hesl’s net, with his second goal set up by none other than former Kleeblatter Heinrich Schmidtgal.

There would be more than a whiff of offside about Fortuna’s second, but what made matters worse was that the game should really have been settled by half-time as more than half a dozen decent chances went begging. This second defeat, coupled with a 2-1 win for Köln in Karlsruhe would see the Geißbocke jump into top spot, ahead of Fürth and 1. FC Union Berlin on goal difference.

Things would just get worse the following week, with Fürth on the receiving end of a resounding 4-2 beating at the Trolli-Arena by a resurgent St. Pauli. The score would be level at 1-1 during the October 20 contest until five minutes into the second half with Fürth’s goal scored in the twenty-fourth minute by Stephan Fürstner, but two strikes in the space of eight minutes from Pauli’s Kevin Schindler would put the Hamburg side firmly in the driving seat. Trinks would pull one back with a seventy-seventh minute header, but Fin Bartels would round off a horrible afternoon for Kramer’s side five minutes into additional time, just moments after goalscorer Fürstner received a straight red card for a foul on Lennart Thy.

With Köln and Union both being held to goalless draws things would not be as bad as they might have been for the Kleeblätter, who would now sit a point off the leaders in third spot.

Two defeats in two would become three in three in what was probably the worst performance of the season up to that point – and yet another home defeat. Bavarian rivals FC Ingolstadt 04 were struggling at the bottom of the table, but from nowhere produced a performance good enough to secure all three points after taking an early lead. With the list of absentees and casualties piling up, coach Kramer would have his work cut out naming a decent starting eleven, but even this would be no excuse for what would be an abject performance against the Keller-dwellers. With their rivals both winning, the gap between Fürth and leaders Köln would stretch out to four points.

A journey east to Aue would be next on the list, and nothing less than a win would be needed to stop the rot and drag the Kleeblätter back into contention – and in what would be an astonishing performance, Kramer’s men would be as good against Erzgebirge as they had been awful against Ingolstadt.

With just five minutes on the clock the recalled Niclas Füllkrug would give the Cloverleaves the lead, which he would double just three minutes later. Just eight minutes after that the promising German Under-21 international would complete a superb hat-trick as Fürth threatened to run riot.  The home side fought back with two goals of their own, but when Aue’s goalscorer Dominic Rau put through his own net just a minute after the pulling the score back to 3-2 it would trigger another green and white avalanche.

A Zoltan Stieber penalty would make it five after fifty-six minutes, and the goalfest was completed by the brilliant Füllkrug with just a minute remaining. Suddenly, Fürth were looking like league champions again. They would remain four points adrift of Köln and one behind Union, but the momentum had clearly shifted.

The 6-2 thrashing of Aue would be followed by an equally convincing 3-0 win over seventh-placed SC Paderborn 07, with Steiber netting twice along with Serbian striker Ognjen Mudrinski. Paderborn would finish the game with just nine men as they suffered two red cards in the space of a minute, but this would not have any real bearing on the result. With Köln going down 1-0 at VfL Bochum and Union being held 0-0 by Karlsruhe, Fürth would edge themselves into second place – just a point behind the leaders.

Match day fifteen would see Köln slip up at home to the fast-improving Ingolstadt, and the 2. Bundesliga would see new leaders in the form of 1. FC Kaiserslautern. With Fürth taking on TSV 1860 München on Monday evening, they knew that a win would return them back to the summit. Unfortunately, they would fall to a single-goal defeat in a sparsely-populated Allianz-Arena, with Dominik Stahl capping off what had been a spell of sustained pressure by the home side. Fürth’s man of the match would be goalkeeper Hesl, and in the end they would be lucky in only conceding the one goal.

Fürth’s season had been pockmarked with goal fests and unlucky defeats, and at home to Energie Cottbus there would be another close encounter that could easily have seen the points slip away. Trinks would give the Kleeblätter an early lead, but once again they would not be able to kill the opposition off despite a number of opportunities. A red card for Energie defender Michael Schulze would settle the nerves at the Trolli-Arena, and the three points would keep Kramer’s side within a shout of finishing the first half of the season on top. With a number of teams now bunching up at the summit, Köln would lead the way with thirty points from their sixteen matches – one ahead of Fürth with Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, St. Pauli and Union all within shooting distance.

The final match of the Hinrunde would see Kramer’s side visit SV Sandhausen, a team that had slowly started to find a bit of form with just one defeat in their six previous league matches – and no defeats in their eight games at home. Midfielder Simon Tüting would give the home side the lead with a sixteenth-minute header, but a thirty-second minute strike from the impressive Füllkrug would quickly level things up. The second half would see Fürth switch into second gear, and would take the lead through a Stieber penalty before Trinks wrapped things up just under a quarter of an hour from the end.

Trinks would also earn the praise of many for his sportsmanship, something that is becoming increasingly rare in this age of cut-throat, high-stakes football. The young Gera-born striker would be awarded a goal in the fifty-third minute, but would inform the referee that the ball had touched his arm on its way in. That he would do this when the game was still in the balance would be telling: it would not just be an empty gesture.

Köln would beat FSV Frankfurt to stay in top spot, but Kramer’s side would now just be a point behind – and four ahead of third-placed Kaiserslautern and St. Pauli. The Red Devils would have the opportunity to pull back to within a point, but would blow it with a 1-0 defeat at home to Düsseldorf.

Fürth’s last two games before the winter break see them take on relegation-threatened Arminia Bielefeld at the Alm, followed by the final game of 2013 at the Trolli-Arena against mid-table VfR Aalen. On paper this should be six points in the bag, but we all know what can happen with predictions.

I will be back with the next Kleeblätter-Kurier report after the winter break, so until then… It’s time for Christmas and some celebratory Trinks! See you next year!

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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