Ziereis: "I always felt we were on the right track"
Sunday, 06. June 2021, 10:00 Uhr
Thanks to an impressive upturn in from after the turn of the year that saw the Boys in Brown ease their way to safety after a rocky start, FC St. Pauli enter their tenth second-division season in a row on the penultimate weekend in July. Philipp Ziereis is already looking forward to the new campaign and a host of interesting matchups. Timo Schultz's charges hope to carry the momentum from that second-half surge with them into next term, despite signing off with three successive defeats.
"We didn't want to let up, we were after the maximum return again," said Ziereis looking back to the season finale. Things didn't go according to plan, however, and the Boys in Brown went into the summer break on the back of three straight defeats and a tenth-place finish some two weeks ago. "It was a challenging season for all of us and towards the end we didn't manage to keep playing on the limit," the centre-back continued. The general feeling remained the same, however: "All in all, the second half of the campaign went very well and was a lot of fun. We're all really up for next season, not just me."
After the reset last summer (change of coaching team and lots of comings and goings in the squad) and a decent start to the season, the brown-and-white machine began to splutter. The Schultz XI went 13 games without a win between early October and mid-January and the threat of relegation began to loom large. "You do worry, of course. Entering the new year with just eight points wasn't a pleasant situation to be in, but I could see how we were working in training, which you can't see from the outside. I always felt we were on the right track and was sure our work would bear fruit."
It's normal that when lots of new players come in it takes time for a team to find its feet, but Ziereis is not alone in wishing it could have gone faster. The necessary adjustments were made over the winter and in mid-January the long-awaited cathartic victory finally came at Hannover. A turning point for the good, if not the turning point. "We needed that one success to get into a flow, but no one could have envisaged it going so well."
Ziereis had high praise for the club for keeping faith in Timo Schultz and his coaching team. "A lot of clubs would have handled it differently," he said. "I think those in charge saw what we were doing in training day in, day out. I'm really happy the club showed patience. It paid off in the end. To come out of the tricky situation we were in and go on a run like that was really awesome." That surge ensured the Boys in Brown were already safe by late April, something few would have predicted at the beginning of January.
The players have three-and-a-half weeks to put their feet up before they commence their preparations for the new season on Thursday, 17 June. "There will be changes, but we have an excellent foundation and want to keep progressing," said Ziereis before adding: "We haven't reached the end of the process and our development yet. There are still lots of areas where we can improve." One of those areas is the defence, where the centre-back intends to do his bit to tighten things up. "We conceded 56 goals, which is too many, of course," he explained.
Be that as it may, Ziereis is really looking forward to the new campaign and is not about to disagree with his coach when he says it will probably be the most attractive second division of all time. "It's going to be a really interesting league and it feels like every game will be a cracker," he said. Ziereis will want to feature as often as possible, of course, so will need to be fit and well. "My health is always my number one priority," he said. "I've missed enough games to injury in my time and I simply want to stay fit. I want to build on a decent six months and can't wait to be back out on the pitch. I feel very much at home here. I want to keep enjoying my football and keep winning games – hopefully in front of fans very soon."
The Millerntor remained empty for almost the whole of last season, with spectators allowed in only for the first two home games against Heidenheim (2,226 fans) and Nürnberg (1,000), and Ziereis is not the only one longing for their return. "We all very much want to be able to play in front of fans again next season. Let's see how things develop, but we all hope things go as well as possible. We missed the fans a lot last year. They'd have been a big help to us in the first half of the season and we'd have had a lot of fun together in the second."
Photos: FC St. Pauli/Witters