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AT LAST! LEAGUE CAMPAIGN RESUMES AGAINST STUTTGART

The Boys in Brown welcome VfB Stuttgart to the Millerntor at 1330 CET on Sunday when Bundesliga 2 returns after a 43-day winter break. Both teams go into the second half of the season determined to kick off with a win to move a step closer to reaching their respective season goals.

Second-division safety and promotion are the goals of FC St. Pauli and VfB Stuttgart going into the back 17. The visitors sit level on points behind Hannover in third place and three points ahead of fourth-placed Heidenheim. Ewald Lienen's men, for their part, are three points adrift of a place outside the drop zone and therefore want and need to get a result. The target against Stuttgart, who boast the best away record so far with 14 points, is the second home win of the season.

Lienen will be without Aziz Bouhaddouz (in the Africa Cup quarter-finals with Morocco), however, as well as Philipp Ziereis (rehab after illness), Ryo Miyaichi and Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (both muscle strains). In Robin Himmelmann and Christopher Buchtmann, two players reported in fit again during the break after two-month injury layoffs. They are joined by the three new signings Lennart Thy, Johannes Flum and Mats Møller Dæhli. All five are set to help continue the upward trend that began towards the end of 2016, when Lienen's team went three games without defeat against Kaiserslautern (0-0), Fürth (2-0) and Bochum (1-1), picking up five points in the process.

As pleasing as 2016 came to an end for the Boys in Brown, as disappointing were the final two games before the winter break for the visitors. After exiting the DFB Cup in Round 2 at Borussia Mönchengladbach (0-2), Stuttgart took 13 points out of 15 from their next five games before closing the year with defeats against Hannover (1-2) and Kickers Würzburg (0-3). The debacle at Bundesliga 2 new boys Würzburg was particularly vexing for the promotion contenders, who would have overwintered on top of the table if they had won.

Hannes Wolf's side may have conceded five goals in two games before Christmas, but they were back to their defensive best in the winter break. Scoreless draws against FC Köln and MSV Duisburg were followed by a 1-0 win over Lausanne Sport and a 3-0 defeat of FC Luzern. Stuttgart's strongest department in the first half of the season was in any case their attack, which contributed 30 goals altogether, a tally bettered only by Hannover 96 (31 goals).

The Boys in Brown will attempt to contain Stuttgart's prolific strikeforce, fronted by 11-goal Simon Terodde, with a focused performance. But if the team are to win on Sunday and go on to achieve their goal of maintaining the club's second-tier status, it will require everyone to pull together – the eleven players on the pitch, those on the bench and everyone else who is not a member of the 18-man squad, as well as every member of staff and every supporter. The motto going into the rest of the season, then, is #alltogethernow – FORZA FCSP!

 

Photo: Witters

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