Welcome back to #TheJenaJourney folks. Things are hotting up at the Ernst-Abbe as we currently sit in second place in 2.Bundesliga with sixteen games to go. Today’s sitting includes some tough games, I aim to leave us with ten games remaining so we will have a big idea as to whether we can do this or not!
First up were Cottbus, a team I am yet to beat as Jena manager. They did the double over us last season as they charged to the 3.Liga title and we drew earlier this season. We are still reeling somewhat from Vito Lux leaving us. Such a good performance last time out means Pezzin will keep his place as the DM and I am also going to stick with Conde and Koc either side of the new lad, Dereli.
Dereli so nearly opened his account in the 8th minute, running in behind but hitting the post with a placed shot. Then Tino went on a mazy dribble, found space and slotted the ball home with his right foot. 1-0! Pezzin made it two after seventeen and things were looking good! Ten minutes to go, they pull one back – nerves started to jangle. However, straight from kick off Nana Welbeck got his first for the club to make it safe. Three points Jena, my first win over Cottbus and we were three points clear at the top until Fortuna played. Pezzin was man-of-the-match and really staking a claim to replace Geisler permanently.
Monday night saw Union Berlin beat up Fortuna 3-1 at Berlin’s place. We had daylight at the top! Paderborn were heading to the Ernst-Abbe at the weekend, and a win would only cement that top position. From the lows of getting knocked out of the cup, this was a real high and I wanted it to continue. Paderborn were down in 14th, so the game was there for the taking. It took us ot the 2nd half to get going, Conde laying Dereli’s first goal for the club on a plate. It was still tight, then Nana Welbeck popped up off the bench again to fire a defleted shot home for 2-0. We rode our luck a bit in this game, but another three points got collected and we were going to be top for another week.
We headed off to Hamburg for our next match, I was pitting my wits against Dick Advocaat, the wily old Dutchman. We headed there an amazing five points clear at the top, Mainz having beaten Fortuna and overtaking them. Hamburg had beaten us earlier in the season, so I was not taking the game lightly at all. I stuck with the same starting eleven as the previous two matches and hoped that we could get at least a point from this. We did everything right until the 87th minute when they scored from a corner. Sure, we only created one good chance but we didn’t let them have anything. This was a really unfair result!
As it was another Friday match, I sat back and watched the weekend’s results. Mainz won, which meant they now trailed us by two points. Fortuna also got back to winning ways, and were just three points behind. I really hoped we could get back on form ourselves with a win against Furth. Mainz won on the Saturday meaning they overtook us, I was enjoying being top.
Well, it was one of those unexplicable performances that happen once in a while. They hammered us 3-0. We were awful, really bad. Nothing went the way it should have done, and the defeat meant we were now down in third. Things change quick around here. That was our fifth defeat of the season, I reckoned we could only afford seven or eight. Our next two matches were huge, Union Berlin and Fortuna Dusseldorf.
I was losing confidence in Dereli, he wasn’t really cutting it sadly. I wasn’t expecting a goal a game at this stage, but one in five is not very promising, and he isn’t really linking the play either. I decided to go back to YP for the Union game which was away. There was also a recall for Geisler. By the time Union rocked around Mainz had won again. Failure to beat Union was potentially massive for us, so I was very focused on getting the team talk right. We started well but fell behind after fifteen. Then YP turned up the heat, a quick double and he put us ahead. Just when he was starting to look like a player, they chopped him down and he was taken off injured, so Dereli was back in the side. And he proved me wrong, boy did he. A great turn and strike put us 3-1 up. What a win, this was a big confidence boost for us after back to back defeats. We were a point behind Mainz with another massive game against Fortuna to come next week.
YP was ruled out for six weeks with a twisted ankle, really bad luck for the kid as he had suddenly sprung into life. Dereli would lead the line again against Fortuna with Marcelo on the bench. Worse news was that Camara and Luirink both picked up one match bans for their accumulated yellows, so would also be missing. I didn’t really want to go into this match with both my centre backs unavailable, brilliant. It meant Schryba and young Giese from the youth team would be starting. The 17-year-old would be making his debut in one of the biggest matches in the club’s recent history.
We were level on points with Fortuna, but with a slightly inferior goal difference. A win would change that, obviously. They had lost a few in a row a few weeks ago and seemed to have recovered, we had suffered back to back’s in the last few games too, so the game really could go either way. It was also going to be much 100th match as a manager, it feels like way more.
Goals give strikers confidence, and Dereli is no different. He started the move with a cheeky back heel, the ball got worked wide and then he arrived late to the penalty spot to fire us ahead. It was a great move and a great start for us. We then missed a sitter for 2-0, which of course meant they went up the other end and levelled it. I’ve lost count of how many decent chances Conde has missed this season, but he was guilty again in the second half. I reckon if he had scored half of them we would be clear at the top by a mile. It ended 1-1, not a disaster but not a great result for either team really.
As you can see, with ten games to go it is very, very tight at the top. I think we are either going to win automatic promotion or miss the play offs completely, no middle ground.
I am delighted Dereli has started to improve, a little worried by Tino Schmidt in the last couple of games and wowed yet again by the calming influence Geisler still has on us despite his aging legs.
Tomorrow night is a big night. Ten games to go and I am looking to set us up for a big promotion finale on Sunday evening.
Come on boys, come on!
Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon
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