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Road to the Bundesliga - key victories, cup elimination and first league defeat

After losing first place in the table on the final matchday of 2023, the Boys in Brown reclaimed top spot with a win at Kaiserslautern when the campaign resumed after the winter break. They went on to claim victory in the top-of-the-bill clashes against Düsseldorf and Fürth but were knocked out of the DFB Cup by the former in between. The Hürzeler XI then tasted defeat in the league for the first time at Magdeburg before returning to winning ways against Braunschweig.

FC St. Pauli 2-0 FC Kaiserslautern
Matchday 18

Head coach Fabian Hürzeler went into the second half of the campaign without captain Jackson Irvine and Connor Metcalfe due to their involvement at the Asia Cup with Australia. Aljoscha Kemlein arrived on loan from Union Berlin and impressed alongside Marcel Hartel in defensive midfield. The Boys in Brown delivered a strong performance against a new-look Kaiserslautern side to claim a richly deserved reward in the shape of all three points. Elias Saad gave his side a first-half lead and Marcel Hartel extended his run of scorng form with a second goal after the break. And with leaders Kiel losing at home to Braunschweig, the Hürzeler XI returned to the second-division summit.

After matchday 18
Position: 1
Points: 36

 2 points to 3rd place
 4 points to 4th place

Fortuna Düsseldorf 1-2 FC St. Pauli
Matchday 19

The new league leaders travelled to fifth-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf for the game of the weekend just a few days before Fortuna were due to visit the Millerntor in the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup. Despite being without Fabian Hürzeler due to suspension the Boys in Brown produced another impressive team performance. Marcel Hartel emerged as the match-winner, netting from the spot and with a header in the first half to give his side a 2-0 lead. Düsseldorf stepped up their attacking efforts after the break and were rewarded when Christos Tzolis pulled one back in the closing stages. That was far as they got, however, thanks to some spirited defending from the Hürzeler XI. And with Fürth the only team in the chasing pack to win, the lead at the top grew bigger.

After matchday 19
Position: 1
Points: 39

 4 points to 3rd place
 5 points to 4th place

FC St. Pauli 2-2 Fortuna Düsseldorf (3-4 on penalties)
DFB Cup quarter-final

Fabian Hürzeler's team went into the cup quarter-final looking to replicate their victory over Düsseldorf in the league. From the outset the tie was a thriller in which penalties were to play a decisive role. Vincent Vermeij gave the visitors a first-half lead from the spot before Marcel Hartel equalised with another penalty to take the tie into extra time. Ao Tanaka restored Fortuna's advantage, but they were pegged back again when Carlo Boukhalfa netted in the final minute, and so it went to a shootout. The Boys in Brown gained an early advantage when Sascha Burchert denied Christoph Daferner, but Fortuna keeper Florian Kastenmeier kept out the penalties from Maurides and Hartel. Christos Tzolis then converted the final penalty to end our cup run at the quarter-final stage.

FC St. Pauli 3-2 Greuther Fürth
Matchday 20

Elimination in the DFB Cup saw the focus return to the promotion race and the visit of second-placed Greuther Fürth just a few days later. With the backing of the home crowd, the Boys in Brown shrugged off the exertions of the Düsseldorf double header to take a 2-0 lead through Elias Saad and Oladapo Afolayan, only for Armindo Sieb to reduce the deficit shortly before the break and Simon Asta to level on the hour. The question now was whether fatigue would be an issue, but the Hürzeler XI responded with renewed energy to secure a deserved 3-2 victory through Elias Saad. On the back of this third consecutive win since the league resumption, the gap to third and fourth place increased to six and seven points respectively.

After matchday 20
Position: 1
Points: 42

 6 points to 3rd place
 7 points to 4th place

FC Magdeburg 1-0 FC St. Pauli
Matchday 21

Still unbeaten, the Boys in Brown travelled to relegation-threatened FC Magdeburg with the momentum behind them and the chance to set a new second division record of 26 consecutive games without defeat. It was an evenly contested affair from the off, though chances were at a premium at both ends. Eventually, a rare mistake in the build-up gave Magdeburg the lead with just over a quarter of an hour to go. Goalkeeper Nikola Vasilj underhit a ball out to Karol Mets, allowing Bariş Atik to register the only goal and condemn the Hürzeler XI to their first league defeat in ten months.

FC St. Pauli 1-0 Eintracht Braunschweig
Matchday 22

How would the team respond after losing for the first time was the question many St. Pauli fans will have been asking themselves. Eintracht Braunschweig came to the Millerntor brimming with confidence following some good results and had already shown that they knew how to win at the Millerntor the previous year. In a high-intensity encounter Oladapo Afolayan gave his side a deserved lead with just over half an hour gone. There were chances at either end but there was to be no further scoring. The Boys in Brown were reduced to ten when Elias Saad was shown a second yellow card with just under half an hour left, but they hung on to their lead until the end. Another three points also extended their lead at the top of the table.

After matchday 22
Position: 1
Points: 45

7 points to 3rd place
8 points to 4th place

Photos: FC St. Pauli/Witters