May 29, 2017

Damn the Defiant: Darmstadt Live on for another Day

I don’t know about you, but even at a relatively advanced age, I still relish those defiant ones that’ flip the middle finger’ at fate, who face the firing squad with a snarl, who smirk at the hangman.  SV Darmstadt 98 and Coach Torsten Frings have been doing just that the last few weeks, and did so again on MatchDay 31 Saturday they forestalled their inevitable relegation for another day (an FC Augsburg win Sunday seals their relegation) by defeating SC Freiburg Saturday 3-0.

It’s been clear for quite awhile … the Lillies of Darmstadt will not be in Germany’s top division next season.  The club only earned eight points in the 16 match Hinrunde this season, and until the last three weeks, had added only seven points in 12 Ruckrunde matches under winter break appointee Frings.  They’ve earned exactly THREE points in fifteen away matches this season, those three points not coming until April 22 in a 1-2 victory in Hamburg. Despite their overall poor play and almost impossibly ugly road record, though, the Lillies of Darmstadt are kicking butt and taking names…nine points out of their last three matches, declaring each weekend “Hell, no, we won’t go”….back to Germany’s second division.

Saturday’s victim, SC Freiburg, have been inconsistent this season but entered Saturday’s match holding sixth place in the Bundesliga table, good enough for a Europa League berth next season.  But Christian Streich’s ‘breisgau-brazilians’ found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreline by the midway point of the first half, as lower division veteran Sandro Sirigu delivered  to Marcel Heller on the right flank, who’s low cross was met by loanee Felix Platte for the game’s first goal.  The score remained the same until the end of the half when Jerome Gondorf got his head on the end of floating curler of a free kick from Mario Vrancic to give the blue-shirted Lillies a 2-0 lead at intermission.

Fring’s boys ended any realistic chances for an SCF comeback just a bit past the hour mark, as Sven Schipplock, who hadn’t scored in 41 Bundesliga matches, fired in from the right to finalize the scoreline at 3-0.   Several quality scoring chances followed for the Lilllies’ — among them the headed shot from captain Aytac Sulu minutes after Schipplock’s goal that somehow missed going in, proving that Darmstadt’s win was no fluke as the Lillies outshot Freiburg 14-9 and earned seven CKs to the visitor’s six.

Saturday’s fine effort came from a Darmstadt team that only has the slimmest mathematical chance of remaining in the Bundesliga next season — the only available lifeline being the 16th place relegation playoff, which does not promise automatic survival but instead features  home and away fixtures against the third place side from Bundesliga 2 following the regular season’s conclusion to determine which side plays first division football come August.  But to gain even that, Darmstadt would have to win their final three games and hope that FCA not earn a single point during the season’s ending fixtures.  Darmstadt’s horrid goal differential, a -32, is so bad that there is little hope that they could improve past Hamburg’s -25 goal differential, whom the Lillies could potentially catch on points if the red-shorts lost their final three matches.  If Augsburg get one point, their goal differential of -21 would be even harder for Darmstadt to overcome.

Implausible.  It’s not going to happen.  Darmstadt is going down.

To be fair, they barely avoided relegation last year, ending the season in 14th place last season but only two points out of the playoff/relegation spot.  In the summer, the club lost Coach Dirk Schuster, who had guided them to two successive promotions and a season of first division survival.  Darmstadt also lost their leading scorer, Sandro Wagner, to Hoffenheim and starting goalkeeper Christian Mathenia to HSV, along with veteran players like Konstantin Rausch (34 S98 appearances last year) and Luca Caldirola (31 S98 appearances). Despite the club only earning only 5.5 million euros in transfer fees since the end of last season, Darmstadt spent even less and basically used loans and free transfers to try to build a capable squad for this year.  It hasn’t worked.

So it was always going to be a tough go this year.  And everyone knew it…. the pundits and writers, the club’s officers, the Darmstadt fans, who spent three decades without first division football since the Lillies’last demotion from the Bundesliga.  But someone forgot to tell the players.

Because, even though they are professionals, concerned about their careers, they’ve focused fully on not going gently into the good night.  They’ve stood up, they’ve battled….and their efforts will be remembered.

Many of us Bundesliga fans will miss Darmstadt for many reasons  Their two successive promotion campaigns that got them to the first division football have stood in stark contrast to RB Leipzig’s energy drink promotion story.  The Lillies small, tree-lined Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor home grounds provided an appealing background for watching a Bundesliga match but was remarkable in that it was renamed for this season to honor the late  Lillies’ superfan Johnny Heimes, who was front in center in cheering on the players’ efforts to earn promotion the last few seasons despite suffering from and eventually succumbing to cancer.

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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