Welcome back to #TheJenaJourney folks. Just ten leagues remain, yes ten. Can we take FC Carl Zeiss Jena to the Bundesliga with straight promotions?
Our run is tough, make no mistake. We have away trips to Mainz, Nurnberg and Sandhausen as well as Hertha Berlin coming to the Ernst-Abbe. Even the other six matches are far from easy. But, I believe we in third place for a reason and certainly in with a shout if things go our way.
The first of ten cup finals was away to Aalen, who were down in 13th. Even though young Giese had played very well on his full debut, Camara had to return as did Luirink. I was hopeful that Dereli was going to push forward following his goal against Fortuna, so we headed off with a lot of hope.
We got off to a great start, a well worked corner ending with Sustersic hammering it home from the edge of the area. Conde found the net for once, but was ruled offside, typical! It was a dull game, and we let it slip – they equalised with 15 to go after I had switched to closing it out. I went to overload, and it worked thank god. Erhart found space and rifled home the winner. We lost Dereli to injury before the end, so I was hoping it wasn’t serious. That was a tough win. It was almost worth double though, as Fortuna fell at home to Karlsruhe
It was a quick turnaround, we had 1860 Munchen at home four days later. Dereli seemed fine, but Camara and Macuilt were out on international duty. In came Gmeiner and Schryba and cup final two of ten was underway. We fell behind to a set-piece after 6 minutes, disappointing that nobody won the header. We employed the Jena Press and we got a goal back before half-time, Dereli firing home from Fox’s cross. Then Tino turned the game round completely, scoring from close range in the 40th minute! A mad five minutes got madder when Conde was brought down in the area, penalty! It worried me that he placed the ball on the spot but the lad made no mistake, 3-1! We were solid in the second half and it remained 3-1. This was a big win, especially coming from behind. Two cup finals down, six points gathered!
Next up were Eintracht Braunschweig, 8th in the table and capable of causing damage to our chances. Camara and Macuilt were back in the side, Schryba having deputised brilliantly once again. Our away form had been patchy, so I was hoping to get at least something from this match. We had a three point lead over Fortuna in third, and a three point gap between us and Mainz at the top so everything was still very much in the balance.
We went behind just before half time, Luirink missing his clearing header and the lad running in behind and finishing. Awful defending. Two down after fifty, this was not looking good. Tino got one back in the 60th, could we recover? No, we pushed and pushed and then they hit us on the break. 3-1. Not a good day, especially with Mainz losing. We could not afford to lose many more games this season, we still had our four biggest tests to come. It was a massive chance missed, Mainz losing surprisingly meant that we would have been level with them on points going into our clash with them.
I was really pissed off with Luirink, missing that header was awful play so I dropped him for the Mainz game, Schryba taking his place. I was also tempted to bring Gmeiner in for Macuilt. Fortuna lost to Hertha Berlin, meaning that all three of the top three lost at the weekend, everyone missed their chance. Hertha Berlin were the winners, moving into a good position to take advantage of any more slips.
So, Mainz. Christian Gross, he of the tube ticket, and Lukas Podolski. Can we dream, can we? Oh my, we took the lead in the 5th minute. Camara played a straight, direct pass over the top to the recalled Erhart who ran on and scored. Damn, that is early to score. I didn’t know whether to stick or twist. I went overload, try and kick them when they are down, a gamble but I’d rather die trying! Podolski had one ruled offside near half time, and we were still doing well. Then they got crazy lucky, a tackle from Camara running into the area, Berbig froze and it was 1-1. Podolski then put them ahead with a thumping finish, killer. Amazingly Erhart went up the other end and made it 2-2! No!! Offside, and it didn’t look like it was. Then the referee completely screwed us. Podolski, with his back to goal, dives and Schryba gets sent off for being last man? Disgraceful decision. Then, in a bat-shot-crazy game we got level. Erhart hit the post and Dereli followed up. I didn’t know, again, to sit back or keep pushing. I left it as it was for a bit. Eventually I switched to try and close it out, and we held on to the 2-2. What a match, madness. So, with six games to go we were still three points behind Mainz at the top, and it could have been worse. We had a six point gap ahead of Hamburg in third.
Karlsruher were next, who were sitting in 11th. The more eagle-eyed of you will recall this is where Vito Lux went in January. There seemed little danger of him coming back to haunt us as he had only started once and made four sub appearances in his time there, with no goals. He wasn’t even in their last match day squad. I felt for him, as he would still be the main man at Jena. Schyrba’s ban meant that Luirink was straight back in the side, other than that we were unchanged.
A move that summed up the way we play at Jena put us ahead after ten minutes. Great pressing to win the ball back, quick shifting of the ball, Dereli dropping deep as the false nine to turn and play Conde in on the right wing. He drifted inside and quick movement of the ball between him, Sustersic and Tino found Dereli unmarked in the area, having drifted in for deep. A lovely calm finish, 1-0 Jena. They are not a bad side though, Karlsruher. They got back on level terms five minutes later with a fine header. We pushed and pushed second half and nothing was going in, until! Seven minutes to go, a corner to the edge of the area, a big hit by sub Marcelo hits the bar, hits the keeper on the back and goes in! Come on!! I switched to counter and prayed we could hold on. We did, in style, nearly scoring on the classic counter. Another massive three points in the Jena account! Hamburg drew and Fortuna won, meaning Fortuna jumped back into third place, seven points behind us with five to go. We were level with Mainz and they had a game in hand, this was getting close.
At this point, I realised I had calculated the games completely wrong – there were three games to go!! We had a seven point lead over third place with three games to go. Oh my word, this could actually happen!
There were 17 days to the next match, a horrible time to have an international break. It was going to be Nurnberg, who we had beaten in the cup much earlier in this incredible season. In the long wait, Mainz won their game in hand to move three points clear again, and seal their promotion.
We headed of to Nurnberg knowing a win meant a third successive promotion, from the regional 4th tier to the Bundesliga. Nerves cannot be described at this stage, I really cannot express what this means to me. The starting eleven was the same: Berbig; Macuilt, Luirink, Camara, Fox; Geisler; Sustersic, Schmidt; Conde, Dereli, Erhart. My only change to the subs was YP back on the bench for Marcelo. Come on lads, you can do this. I didn’t care about winning the title, if we got lucky we got lucky, but I want promotion badly. Promotion this season would mean that Paul of FM Central could not beat me!
Nervous, nervous, nervous. We took the lead in the 23rd minute, Sustersic breaking into a wide position and crossing to the near post. Dereli arrived unmarked, goal. 42 minutes on the clock, Fox crosses, Sustersic heads down and Dereli half volleys home the second! Come on boys, come on!! Credit to Tino Berbig, he made a world class save mid-way through the second half, Nurnberg were starting to find a way back into the game. They did, 60 minutes gone and it was 2-1. Absolutely bricking myself. I went all out attack again, before planning to shift to counter for the last ten. Wave after wave of Nurnberg attack, then Sustersic had a great chance to seal it. Saved at the near post! We switched to counter, hoping to seal it. A long ball from their keeper reached our penalty area, and the head of their striker looking to flick it on. The flick on sailed over Berbig and it was 2-2. Oh my word. Then Conde and Erhart forced a double save in injury time, no goal. The game finished 2-2. What did this mean?
Fortuna won, so the gap was now five points with two to play, we needed another win to be sure. Heart breaking, we were 2-0 up!! The result guaranteed a play off place, but who wants that?
Hertha Berlin were next, at the Ernst-Abbe. Talk about a tough run in. My only hope was that they had nothing to play for, they couldn’t get into the play offs. Except they could, they were fourth and just three points behind Fortuna, if things went their way they could sneak in. This was going to be a hell of a game!
So we had to go through it all again. Jena vs Hertha Berlin, a win would see us promoted. A draw and other results going our way would also do it. We only do it one way here at Jena, and that is go all out. Macuilt had a one match ban, so in came Gmeiner.
Just as we got the news that Mainz were one down at Hamburg, Dereli gave us the lead. What a run of goals he is on. One became two, again, Dereli hitting the post and Conde tapping in from a millimetre to give us another real chance. Then Erhart gave Tino an open goal and it was 3-0. Surely this time it was going to happen? We got through to half time with a clean sheet. The second half plan was simple. Hopefully get to the hour mark without conceding, send on fresh legs, switch to counter.
Plans and all that, Gmeiner chopped down their winger in the area for a clear penalty. 3-1, 47 gone. We managed to get to seventy without anything else happening, so fresh legs came on and we switched to close it out. Dereli went off injured with ten to go, so we had a fresh YP to run around a bit up front. The game fizzled out, just as we wanted, final score 3-1.
Yes, 3-1. FC Carl Zeiss Jena have won promotion to the Bundesliga. That is THREE straight promotions. Incredible, unbelievable. We are going to be in the Bundesliga next season!! All this and I have not spent a single penny on a player, I am amazed. Wow!
Mainz recovered against Hamburg, meaning they won the title, but I don’t care. We have been promoted. Yes, we have been promoted. I’ll say it again, we have been promoted. We lost the first game of the season 6-1, and we have been promoted.
We had thirteen days to the final game of the season, the trip to Sandhausen. I didn’t care for it much, but then I also wanted to avenge our Quarter Final defeat there earlier in the season. I decided to get the match out of the way before starting to think about how I could improve the squad for next season. I knew I would be losing the loan lads, and there were a few contracts that I would need to look at – but that will be for tomorrow’s update.
Four minutes in and Dereli got his tenth of the season. The lad signed in January, looked very average at first and has come to life when we needed him. He is possibly my best signing on FM15. They got level after 20, a very luck richochet from a corner. Right on the stroke of half time they went ahead. To be honest, we didn’t seem to be in the mood! Second half and we were not much better. Tino got himself sent off for two silly fouls and that looked like that. They got their third and it was definitely that. This was a disappointing way to end the season, but nobody was that bothered, least of all me.
So that was that, what and end to the season. The original aim of #TheJenaJourney was to beat Paul of FM Central to the Bundesliga. I reckon we have done that with three straight promotions.
What next? I want to see how quickly I can get Europa League football to the Ernst-Abbe. I am setting the goals of a top half finish next season, Europa League qualification the year after, Champions League qualification the year after that.
What an incredible journey this is, by far and away my favourite FM save ever. Incredible.
Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon