From their very first top-flight goal to the record-breaking long-range strike, and topping the Bundesliga standings in the wake of matchday four action, the season couldn’t have started any better for newly-promoted SC Paderborn.
Pre-season predictions suggested they would struggle to get out of the drop zone for the entire season, but they rose quickly to win the hearts of many neutral fans by giving a run for the Bundesliga veterans’ money. However, come the end of the season, it was Paderborn who sat rock bottom in the standings, triggering yet another quick relegation for a low-budget promoted side.
Story of the season
After 5th and 12th placed finishes the past four season in the Bundesliga 2, André Breitenreiter’s squad finally pulled off a promotion to the top-flight football in only his second season coaching the club.
The Westphalians continued their fairytale story throughout this season’s Hinrunde, as they ended the Hinrunde at a respectable 10th place. Although the tight race at the bottom half of the table was as competitive as it gets, they were never been dropped further than 12th midway through the season.
Paderborn held their, sharing spoils against the big boys Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund under difficult circumstances, but the highlight of the Hinrunde was, arguably, topping the standing ahead of a trip to Allianz Arena. Although the back-to-back defeats against Pep’s troops and Borussia Mönchengladbach halted their momentum, they bounced back with impressive home wins against Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin. But they failed to register a single win in their final seven matches going into the Winterpause, leaving them only two points clear of the relegation/promotion playoff place.
As Paderborn lost rhythm in the closing stage of the Hinrunde, the season’s 2nd half only provided further misery, as SCP got on the score-sheet only once in their first ten Rückrunde outings.
Back in the Hinrunde, Moritz Stoppelkamp’s audacious strike against Hannover sealed a place at the summit for the minnows on September, and a comeback win in the corresponding fixture revived Paderborn’s chances of staying up when they seem destined to face relegation, but once again Bayern provided the reality check, as they score half dozen goals to move the debutants closer to the relegation zone. The following week saw them made their first appearance in the Bundesliga’s bottom three, while a hard-fought scoreless draw against Hoffenheim ended their longest losing streak (4), yet wasn’t enough to prevent SCP from dragging into the automatic relegation places.
Although Paderborn’s situation never eased, to their credit, SCP never gave up early, as they prevailed in a six-pointer at Freiburg, staying a whisker away from the danger zone with three matches left. Despite brave these performances, Paderborn were comfortably beaten by 2nd-placed Wolfsburg, then conceded a late heartbreaker at underachievers Schalke to all but guarantee relegation ahead of the final matchday fixture at home to resurgent VFB Stuttgart. Yet Andre Breitenreiter’s men showed glimpse of a remarkable survival in their last roll of the dice, as they opened the scoring against the Swabians and results elsewhere going their way, but it wasn’t too long before the visitors got their noses in front (both on the night, and the overall standings).
Decisive moment of the season
Although they still rue giving up the lead in their last Bundesliga fixture for at least another year, a crucial moment was squandering the lead during a late Sunday match in April against Werder Bremen. When Paderborn was stunningly up 2-0 at halftime, yet Werder’s set-piece magic (read: Zlatko Junuzović) leveled the score, denying their hosts the perfect opportunity to pull equal in points with Freiburg – their opponent the following week – just outside the bottom three.
They did pull off the unexpected at Freiburg courtesy of a brace from Lukas Rupp, coming from a goal behind, but by the time Schalke beat the minnows in the wake of an unfortunate own-goal by the skipper Uwe Hünemeier in the closing stage of the penultimate weekend, Paderborn’s chances of extending their top-flight status seemed improbable than ever. Had they held onto the lead against the Green-Whites, they would have been clear of the relegation sight ahead of the final three tough fixtures.
Player of the season
The start of the season saw Elias Kachunga and Moritz Stoppelkamp making waves all around Germany in the attacking front, but both dropped, accentuating the fact that the club failed to score in half of their league matches by the season’s end speaks for itself. We also saw great moments from the likes of Suleiman Koc, Lukas Rupp and Alban Meha, the latter was injured for major part of the Hinrunde, but they all lack a certain element for such accolade; namely consistency.
Of course, Uwe Hünemeier also had his collapses here and there, compounded by his unnecessary challenge that led to Mainz’s equalizer in the curtain-raiser to the late own-goal at Schalke, but the skipper has been the exemplar player for the fighting attitude the outsiders showing throughout the campaign. It’s never easy to survive among the elite strikers after spending years in the second division, but the former-BVBer managed to find his name among league’s top ten in interceptions (3rd), clearances (2nd) and blocks (7th). Only missing a couple of matches in the entire campaign, Hünemeier possessed a decent disciplinary record with only four bookings.
While Darmstadt and Inglostadt(?) are the next teams to try their luck as undeniable underdogs next season, Paderborn will not have a easy time managing another promotion to the Bundesliga. Currently, the Bundesliga 2 is filled with teams full of potential, at least on paper, including the once-legendary TSV 1860 München, who will kick-off their 12th consecutive season in the second-tier, and even needed the final seconds to stay up. Moreover, the likes of Kaiserslautern, VFL Bochum and Nürnberg were regular fixtures in the top-flight football not so long ago, but have struggled to get themselves out of the conundrum of the lower division since. Furthermore Greuther Fürth and Eintracht Braunschweig arrived to the Bundesliga in previous seasons with almost the same infrastructures and backgrounds as Paderborn, but they are dangling in the mid-table since their respective quick relegations.
But this is not to say that all is dark and gloomy for SCP next season.
By now, it might be easy to forget that SCP were in the reach of survival until the last Matchday in what will go down as one of the fascinating relegation fights in Bundesliga history. However, typically the biggest worry for relegated sides is losing key players over the summer transfer market, then rebuilding their squad in a couple months. Whether Paderborn keeps the core of their squad together remains to be seen, especially with the recent departure of SCP’s architect of success, André Breitenreiter, to Schalke. Regardless, Paderborn supporters can surely be somewhat hopefully, given their just-finished top flight experience.
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