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After a two-week winter break and three weeks of mid-season preparations, FC St. Pauli resume their league campaign at SV Darmstadt 98 on Tuesday evening (2030 CET). The Lilies go into the game looking for three points to widen the gap to the drop zone, while the Boys in Brown aim to carry on where they left off in the first part of the season by collecting their first-ever win at the Böllenfalltor.

Markus Kauczinski's side entered the winter break on the back of an impressive seven-game unbeaten run. The 4-1 home win over FC Magdeburg just before Christmas, coupled with defeats for HSV (3-1 at Kiel), FC Cologne (3-2 at home to Bochum) and Union Berlin (3-0 at Aue), not only saw the Boys in Brown leapfrog the Berliners into third place, it also narrowed the gap to the top two, leaving them two points behind Cologne and three behind HSV.

While no one at the club is getting too excited about the ascent into the play-off place, the positive end to the year has undoubtedly done wonders for the team's mental strength and confidence. And so it is with great anticipation and desire that the Boys in Brown go to Darmstadt determined to keep the run going and add to their points tally.

With HSV not playing host to SV Sandhausen until Wednesday and fellow chasing sides Cologne and Union Berlin meeting on Thursday, victory at Darmstadt would lift the Boys in Brown to the top of the table, at least for 24 hours, but that will be no easy task given their previous record at the Böllenfalltor of two draws and five defeats from seven games. Aptly enough, the last time they topped the table was in early August following the 2-0 win over Darmstadt in the reverse fixture at the Millerntor.

"We all know how difficult it's going to be," said centre-back Christopher Avevor, urging his teammates not to underestimate Darmstadt in spite of their dip in form before the winter break. Dirk Schuster's side signed off before Christmas after a run of six games without a win, including a crushing 6-2 defeat in the final game of the year at SC Paderborn, a game that had stood 2-2 after 75 minutes.

The Lilies focused on their defensive frailties during the winter break and the hard work appears to have had some effect. While it is seldom wise to attach too much importance to the results of warm-up matches, Schuster's team conceded just two goals in four outings against Paderborn (2-1), Swiss second-division outfit Rapperswil Jona (0-0) and third-division sides TSV 1860 Munich (1-0) and SV Wehen Wiesbaden (2-1).

Darmstadt will be hoping that defensive improvement will deliver a win on Tuesday evening to put some distance between themselves and the relegation places. Yet they are all too aware that Kauczinski's side are unbeaten in their last six away games and, having knocked in 14 goals in their last seven games before the winter break, will be going all out to win in front of some 2,000 travelling fans.


Photos: Witters