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FC St. Pauli secured a 4-3 victory in the top-of-the-table matchup with second-placed Holstein Kiel on Friday evening. In a clinical first-half showing the Boys in Brown raced into a three-nil lead thanks to a brace from Oladapo Afolayan sandwiched around a Marcel Hartel strike. Shuto Machino pulled one back after the break before Connor Metcalfe restored the three-goal advantage, only for Joshua Mees and Alexander Bernhardsson to reduce the deficit to one. The Hürzeler XI stood firm, though, to seal three vital points.

Head coach Fabian Hürzeler made two changes to the side that beat Eintracht Braunschweig 1-0 at home last time out. Connor Metcalfe replaced the suspended Elias Saad, while Aljoscha Kemlein came in for Johannes Eggestein. Kemlein partnered skipper Jackson Irvine in holding midfield, while Hartel moved up top. "We need lots of freshness and felt that Jojo needed a break," said Hürzeler, who also named fit-again Simon Zoller in his 20-man squad for the first time since late November. Kiel boss Marcel Rapp, in contrast, named an unchanged side after the comfortable 4-0 win at SC Paderborn.

The first chance fell to the home side in front of a 15,034 sell-out crowd at the Holstein Stadium. Shuto Machino sent Finn Porath clear with a ball over the top, but his lob cleared not only Nikola Vasilj but also the crossbar by some distance. Both teams sought to stifle the opposition build-up play some early pressing, mostly with success. Until the 11th minute, that is, when Philipp Treu knocked a pass to Oladapo Afolayan, who cut in from the left, wrongfooted both Timo Becker and Finn Porath and angled a low drive towards the far corner. The ball took a slight deflection off Jackson Irvine to leave Kiel keeper Timon Weiner without a prayer – one-nil!

Hürzeler had predicted a high-intensity encounter and so it was, with neither side giving an inch in the challenge. Kiel threatened next in the 17th minute with two chances in quick succession. First, Steven Skrzybski was denied by Vasilj with a shot from just inside the box, and from the resulting corner the home side thought they had scored when Tom Rothe's deflected effort came back off the inside of the post and looked to be on its way in. But Vasilj recovered quickly to grab the ball just before it crossed the line, though it was a matter of millimetres. Back at the other end, Afolayan could have added a second when Marcel Hartel flicked on a low cross from Manolis Saliakas, only to see his shot curl narrowly wide of the near post.

It remained a fascinating contest in which both teams looked to get forward at every opportunity. It was Kiel who fashioned the next opening, Skrzybski sending the advancing Porath on his way, and this time he smashed his shot wide right from ten metres. Moments later the ball was in the back of the net, but at the other end. Connor Metcalfe delivered a low cross into the box from the right and Hartel was a shade quicker to it than his marker, Patrick Erras, toe-poking the ball into the net from close range. And there was more to come a couple of minutes later when the Boys in Brown took clinical advantage of a mistake in the Kiel build-up to extend their advantage. Hartel teed up Afolayan, who was completely unmarked in the left channel, and he left Weiner no chance with a shot into the far corner. There was time for Aljoscha Kemlein to fire over after a Metcalfe effort had been blocked by Erras, and the brutally efficient Hürzeler XI went in three goals to the good at the half.

Oladapo Afolayan (here under challenge from Shuto Machino) bagged his first brace in St. Pauli colours.

Oladapo Afolayan (here under challenge from Shuto Machino) bagged his first brace in St. Pauli colours.

The Boys in Brown came back out unchanged, while Kiel opted to make two changes, Philipp Sander and Joshua Mees replacing Marvin Schultz and Steven Skrzybski. The home side stepped up a gear after the restart but initially made little headway against the well-marshalled St. Pauli rearguard. On 53 minutes, however, they got the early goal they were looking for when Porath fed Machino in the box and he pulled the trigger from 14 metres. Vasilj got a hand to his powerfully struck effort but was unable to keep it out.

As in the reverse fixture, when Lewis Holtby pulled one back just after the interval, the Boys in Brown were left to recover from an early setback, and they did just that in perfect fashion. Treu won possession and picked out Irvine, who delivered a fine cross from the left-hand side for the advancing Metcalfe to steer a first-time effort past Weiner. The three-goal lead had been restored but it wasn't to last long, as Kiel struck again from a corner on 65 minutes.

Two minutes after that, Eric Smith dispatched a free kick into the box that Hartel met with his head ten metres out, but Weiner made a comfortable save. With the game entering the closing stages, Rapp bolstered his attack, throwing on striker Alexander Bernhardsson for midfielder Lewis Holtby. Soon after, Hürzeler made his first substitution, introducing Carlo Boukhalfa for the impressive Connor Metcalfe.

The home side had the lion's share of the possession at this stage, but the Boys in Brown defended so well that they seldom found a way through. That changed in the 76th minute when Mees was allowed space to shoot from range, but his effort proved no problem for Vasilj. Almost immediately, double goalscorer Oladapo Afolayan made way for Lars Ritzka.

Kiel made for a nervy finale when Bernhardsson found the far corner from the right channel eight minutes from time. It was a case of all hands to the pump for the Boys in Brown now and they were left breathing a huge sigh of relief in the 89th minute when Bernhardsson popped up unmarked in front of Vasilj and only narrowly missed the target. Boukhalfa and Hartel almost put the game to bed in time added on, but both saw their efforts come back off the crossbar. Finally, the referee blew his whistle for the final time to seal a repeat of the most recent visit to Kiel in May 2023, when the Boys in Brown led 4-1 but hung on to win 4-3.


Holstein Kiel

Weiner - Becker, Erras, Kleine-Bekel, Rothe - Porath, Remberg, Holtby (Bernhardsson 70'), Schulz (Sander 46') - Skrzybski (Mees 46'), Machino (Niehoff 84')

Head coach: Marcel Rapp


FC St. Pauli

Vasilj - Wahl, Smith, Mets - Saliakas, Irvine, Kemlein (Dźwigała 85'), Treu - Metcalfe (Boukhalfa 72'), Hartel, Afolayan (Ritzka 76')

Head coach: Fabian Hürzeler


Goals: 0-1 Afolayan (11'), 0-2 Hartel (34'), 0-3 Afolayan (35'), 1-3 Machino (53'), 1-4 Metcalfe (56'), 2-4 Mees (65'), 3-4 Bernhardssson (82')

Yellow cards: Schulz – Hürzeler (for leaving the coaching zone)

Referee: Dr Matthias Jöllenbeck (Freiburg)

Attendance: 15,034 (sold out)


Photos: FC St. Pauli/Witters