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FITTING MILLERNTOR FINALE THE TARGET BUT FANS SORELY MISSED

Under normal circumstances, the players would run out in front of a sell-out crowd for the final home game of the season on Sunday (15:30 CET). Under normal circumstances, another 29,546 fans would pack the ground, some 27,000 of them belting out the full repertoire in support of their team one more time. Covid-19 continues to rule that out, however, leaving the Boys in Brown to contest the Millerntor finale against Hannover 96 behind closed doors. Nevertheless, the goal remains the same: the Schultz XI are targeting another three points.

And so it is upon us: the final home game of a season of two halves for the Boys in Brown, the first incredibly challenging, the second simply outstanding. The final home game of the season is always a special occasion, a day on which players and supporters say temporary or permanent goodbyes and strive to sign off on a successful note. But as in the equivalent fixture last year against Jahn Regensburg, no fans will be present on Sunday. The Schultz XI will play in front of empty stands for the 15th home game in a row and then quietly bring the curtain down on their Millerntor campaign.

Though the support of the fans continues to be painfully missed, Timo Schultz's side will go all out for another three points at the Millerntor, which this season has welcomed spectators only against Heidenheim (2,226) and Nürnberg (1,000). Since Tuesday, they have been preparing for the game at a "quarantine training camp" in Herzlake, a mandatory requirement imposed by the German Football League (DFL) on all first and second division clubs from Wednesday. And with the target being to finish as high up the table as possible, the players are determined not to let the season just peter out.

Three points from the last two games would see them equal the record set for the second half of a season in the 2016/17 campaign, four or more break it and write club history. The Boys in Brown go into the home finale seventh on 47 points and desperate to ward off the challenge of the three teams hot on their heels, Paderborn, Karlsruhe (both 46) and Darmstadt (45). A win over Hannover would therefore do nicely.

It is safe to say the season has not gone to plan for the Lower Saxony outfit, who have lodged at a hotel next to their HDI Arena since Wednesday. Despite a mediocre pre-Christmas period with highs (eight wins, including successes against Bochum and at HSV) and lows (seven defeats, e.g. at Osnabrück and Würzburg), the 96ers were still within sight of the promotion places at the turn of the year, but then they began to stutter and eventually went into free fall from February. Head coach Kenan Kocak, who will make way for Jan Zimmermann of fourth-tier outfit TSV Havelse next term, has guided his side to just one win in the last 12 games, a run that has seen them plummet from sixth to 13th in the table.

As the season draws to a close, Hannover will be looking to halt their downward trajectory and end an unsatisfactory campaign as well as possible, of course. The Boys in Brown, in turn, will aim to send them home empty-handed by completing the double over them. Regrettably, they do so without the backing of the 27,000 or so St. Pauli fans who under normal circumstances would have been in the ground to celebrate what will hopefully be a win with them after the final whistle.

 

Photos: Witters

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