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Road to the Bundesliga - opening-day win, a string of draws and Kiel goal fest

After 13 years in the second division, FC St. Pauli are finally back in the Bundesliga. In the opening weeks of the 2023/24 campaign, however, there was little indication that the Boys in Brown would have such a convincing season. The start to the season brought a string of draws followed by a high-scoring affair at home to Kiel.

The 2023/24 campaign began with several changes in the squad. FC Zurich loanee Karol Mets signed a permanent deal and Hauke Wahl moved to the Millerntor from Holstein Kiel. Luxembourg international Danel Sinani, Philipp Treu and Scott Banks arrived in mid-August. The list of departures was much longer, with Leart Paqarada and Lukas Daschner, for example, opting to join Bundesliga clubs FC Köln and VfL Bochum respectively, and Igor Matanović joining Karlsruher SC on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt when his two-year loan deal with the Boys in Brown came to an end.

FC Kaiserslautern 1-2 FC St. Pauli

Matchday 1

Fabian Hürzeler's team kicked off the new season at the Betzenberg in Kaiserslautern. Around 45,000 fans made for a cracking opening-day atmosphere as the two teams fought out a high-intensity contest on the pitch that remained goalless at the break. The Boys in Brown took the lead soon after the restart, Elias Saad latching onto a long ball from captain Jackson Irvine to open our account, only for Kaiserslautern to level through Ragnar Ache. Marcel Hartel was then fouled in the Lautern box by Erik Durm and brushed himself down to convert from the spot. The Hürzeler XI comfortably withstood a late Kaiserslautern rally to celebrate their first three points of the new season.

After matchday 1:

Position: 5

Points: 3

FC St. Pauli 0-0 Fortuna Düsseldorf
Matchday 2

The opening home game of the season saw the Boys in Brown play host to Fortuna Düsseldorf. Both teams looked to get forward from the off and the 29,546 fans were treated to an entertaining 90 minutes. Jackson Irvine and Fortuna's Felix Klaus for Fortuna had the best chances before the break, but it remained scoreless at the half. The same two players squandered further chances soon after the resumption. Düsseldorf keeper Florian Kastenmeier had a blinder, producing several good saves to keep it at 0-0 in the second half. The Hürzeler XI were reduced to ten when Karol Mets was sent off ten minutes from time. Klaus aimed a shot just wide soon after, but that was the last of the action and two very good teams ended up sharing the spoils.

After matchday 2:

Position: 6

Points: 4

SV Atlas Delmenhorst 0-5 FC St. Pauli

DFB Cup Round 1

Atlas Delmenhorst provided the opposition in the first round of the DFB Cup. A crowd of almost 5,000 saw the Boys in Brown dominate from the opening whistle and take a deserved lead when Eric Smith converted a 20-metre free-kick. The fifth-tier outfit were content to sit back and wait for a chance to break, and though the Hürzeler XI created several good chances, they were unable to add to their narrow 1-0 lead before the break. Cup keeper Sascha Burchert had little to do and showed a safe pair of hands on the odd occasion he was called upon. After Yunus Sari had put through his own goal, Elias Saad scored a fine solo goal before Marcel Hartel converted a penalty and Oladapo Afolayan netted from close range to complete a comfortable 5-0 victory.

Greuther Fürth 0-0 FC St. Pauli

Matchday 3

Next up for the Boys in Brown on their return to league action was a trip to Greuther Fürth. In an evenly balanced contest, there were few chances for either side. The game finally burst to life in the closing stages, with Fürth having good chances to take the lead before substitute Andreas Albers and Marcel Hartel squandered excellent opportunities. In the fifth minute of time added on Albers scored what looked like the winning goal following a free-kick from the middle third, only for it to be disallowed due to a highly controversial offside decision.

After matchday 3:

Position: 7

Points: 5

FC St. Pauli 0-0 FC Magdeburg

Matchday 4

Back at the Millerntor, the Boys in Brown were determined to open the floodgates against FC Magdeburg. They dominated from the outset against a decent FCM side who had made a good start to the new campaign, but despite their obvious superiority and 28-5 attempts on goal the ball just wouldn't go in. The Hürzeler XI missed a string of chances, especially in the second half, a combination of wayward finishing and some excellent work from FCM goalkeeper Dominik Reimann.

After matchday 4:

Position: 9

Points: 6

Eintracht Braunschweig 1-1 FC St. Pauli

Matchday 5

Eric Smith had said the time had come to return to winning ways after the Magdeburg game, but the sought-after three points again failed to materialise at Braunschweig. As in the preceding games, The Boys in Brown were the dominant side but seldom found the means to unlock the Eintracht defence. At the back, they showed their customary meanness, however, leaving Nikola Vasilj virtually nothing to do. Finally, with an hour gone, Elias Saad ended the 330-minute goal drought to give his side the lead. Saad was then denied by the excellent Ron-Thorben Hoffmann as the game entered the final quarter of an hour before Braunschweig's Thórir Jóhann Helgason, who had only just come on, smashed an undercooked clearance into the FCSP net to condemn the Hürzeler XI to a fourth draw in succession.

After matchday 5:

Position: 9

Points: 7

FC St. Pauli 5-1 Holstein Kiel

Matchday 6

The Kiel game was preceded by the first international break of the season. Captain Jackson Irvine returned with an ankle injury and was ruled out for the next few games. Connor Metcalfe replaced his compatriot in the team and opened the scoring early on with a spectacular 25-metre strike into the top left-hand corner that later won the September Goal of the Month competition. "That was by far the best goal of my life," the Australian said after the game. Eric Smith followed up shortly afterwards with an equally spectacular free-kick from 25 metres and Oladapo Afolayan made it 3-0 before the break. Lewis Holtby reduced the deficit for Kiel shortly after the restart, but Lars Ritzka and Etienne Amenyido added further goals to complete a comfortable 5-1 victory.

After matchday 6:

Position: 6

Points: 10


Photos: FC St. Pauli/Witters