By Kevin Hatchard.
Paderborn got off to a flying start by playing fearless and attacking football, and they will now need to recapture their bravery if they are to perform giant-killings.
The Paderborn fans that were packed into the Benteler Arena roared on their team, with just seconds separating the minnows from another precious three points in Germany’s top flight. In desperation, Paderborn’s opponents Hannover 96 sent goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler into the box, in anticipation of a left-wing free-kick. Another body for the ball to drop to, another possibility amongst the mayhem the visitors hoped to create. Christian Pander swung the ball into the danger area with his left foot, and it was headed clear.
Paderborn’s Moritz Stoppelkamp took the clearance on his chest, and instinct took over. Without letting the ball drop, he struck the ball perhaps as sweetly as he ever had before, and ever will again. His right-foot shot took five bounces on its 82-metre journey to the goal-line, and Bundesliga history was made.
That record-breaking goal sealed a 2-0 win last September, and put Paderborn top of the Bundesliga table after four matches. The club with the strictest budget and the smallest stadium in the league were looking down on the rest.
Although Paderborn were then mercilessly thumped 4-0 at champions Bayern Munich, they still collected seven points from the following five games, leaving them with a healthy tally of 15 points from their first 10 matches. They had established themselves as everyone’s second-favourite team, not just because they were David battling a horde of Goliaths, but because they were playing fearless and attacking football.
Sadly, that enterprising attitude wasn’t to last, and a run of bad results has seen coach Andre Breitenreiter become increasingly negative in his approach. SCP have taken just eight points from their last 14 games, and have failed to score in six of their last seven matches. In their only win of 2015, they set up to grind out a draw at Hannover, but were forced to open up after going behind. Two moments in games I have commentated on recently have really hammered home the point to me that Breitenreiter and his players have lost their positivity and self-belief.
Firstly, during the 6-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich, Paderborn prepared for a substitution at 2-0 down. I could see striker Srdjan Lakic was stripped and ready to enter the fray, and I was about to applaud Breitenreiter for throwing on an extra striker. Disappointingly, existing frontman Elias Kachunga was hauled off, and Paderborn went on to lose 6-0. I’m not saying a front two of Lakic and Kachunga would have turned the game on its head, but it would have been nice to have found out. Damage limitation was the aim, rather than causing damage at the other end.
The second example occurred during Sunday’s 3-0 home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. The match was goalless after 70 minutes, and Paderborn had been the better team against a Bayer side labouring in an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation. The game was there to be won, and winger Suleyman Koc – rebuilding his life and career in laudable fashion after a spell in prison – was causing the visitors headaches with thrusting, slaloming runs. To the dismay of some Paderborn fans, Koc was then withdrawn in favour of the more defensively-minded Jens Wemmer. Breitenreiter had decided a point against Leverkusen was worth holding on to. Five minutes later, Bayer broke the deadlock, and another opportunity had slipped by.
Paderborn are now in the relegation play-off spot, just a point clear of the bottom two. They have games remaining against three of the current bottom five, so the chance is still there to defy the odds and stay up. To do that, Breitenreiter must remember an age-old lesson – fortune favours the brave.
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