Dreaming Darmstadt can’t be moved

Stadion am Böllenfalltor, Darmstadt's fortress.

Stadion am Böllenfalltor, Darmstadt’s fortress.

After avoiding relegation in the 2012/13 season due to Kickers Offenbach being refused a license to play in the 3.Liga, Darmstadt haven’t looked back since. Last season Die Lilien were one of the surprise packages in the 3.Liga and they deservedly finished in third place, behind champions Heidenheim and newly promoted RB Leipzig, all finishing way ahead of everyone else. The third place finish meant a play-off against Arminia Bielefeld, both sides went on to play their parts in one of the greatest play-offs ever. In the first leg Darmstadt disappointingly lost 3-1 at home, however in the second leg they produced one of the clubs greatest performances. You could watch the game over and over again and still can’t believe what happened. After taking a two goal lead, Bielefeld managed to get a goal back and ten minutes from time Jérôme Gondorf scored to take the game into extra time. Bielefeld scored in the 110th minute through Kacper Przybyłko and in brilliant fashion Darmstadt unbelievably managed to score with one of the last kicks of the game, Elton da Costa volleyed from outside the area and it fired past the helpless Stefan Ortega Moreno to send Darmstadt into the 2.Bundesliga on away goals.

Since that eventful night Darmstadt haven’t woken up, their dreams have been disrupted on two occasions, however they managed to drift off to sleep again and continue on with their dreams. Many would’ve predicted Darmstadt’s long awaited return to Germany’s second tier to be more of a nightmare, fortunately for the club and their fans, they’ve settled into their new home rather comfortably.

In the summer they managed to keep hold of most of their squad, which is fantastic for any newly promoted side. The only departures were Markus Ziereis, who returned to FSV Frankfurt after his loan spell, Jan Zimmermann joined 3.Liga champions Heidenheim and Josip Landeka joined SG Sonnenhof Großaspach. The biggest loss of those three was keeper Zimmermann, he was a great servant to the club and managed to make 132 appearances between the sticks, Darmstadt have replaced him with former Mainz keeper Christian Mathenia, who’s done a fantastic job as Die Lillien’s number one.

Other transfers during the summer were Fabian Holland on loan from Hertha Berlin, Maurice Exslager on loan from Köln, Florian Jungwirth from Bochum, Ronny König from FC Erzgebirge Aue, keepers Marius Sauss and Patrick Platins from  VfL Wolfsburg and  Arminia Bielefeld respectively and finally Tobias Kempe and Romain Brégerie from Dynamo Dresden, both have instantly made themselves key players. 

Dirk Schuster’s men started the season perfectly, there’s no better way to start the season than in front of your own fans and the players certainly made the most of it as they secured a 1-0 victory over Sandhausen, last season’s top scorer Dominik Stroh-Engel didn’t wait around for his first goal back in the 2.Bundesliga, he opened his account from the penalty spot in the 36th minute. The club’s first away game of the season can be looked back on with a lot of pride, especially as their hosts now sit in first place. Darmstadt managed to earn themselves a point, goals from Brégerie and Stroh-Engel were separated by Stefan Lex’s goal and unfortunately for Darmstadt a last minute goal from Karl-Heinz Lappe denied them all three points.

Last season Darmstadt were drawn against Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first round of the DFB Pokal and after forcing the game all the way to penalties they managed to cause one of the competitions shocks by winning the shoot-out. Sadly for Darmstadt they were knocked out in the second round at the hands of Schalke. This season they were given another Bundesliga test in the first round, this time it was in the shape of Wolfsburg, like the year before Darmstadt were able to take the game to penalties, however they weren’t able to achieve similar results in the shoot-out as Wolfsburg won 5-4.

With the club’s mind back on league duty they were able to continue their unbeaten start to the season. Another goal from the spot for Stroh-Engel and a goal from Hanno Behrens saw off Aalen, in Munich Stroh-Engel’s first half goal was cancelled out by 1860 München’s Rubin Okotie. Back in front of their fans Marcel Heller got his first of the season before another Stroh-Engel strike secured another 2-0 victory, this time Erzgebirge Aue were sent packing.

We all know that good things must come to an end sooner rather than later and as previously mentioned Darmstadt’s dream was disrupted when they travelled to recently relegated Eintracht Braunschweig. Goals from Håvard Nielsen and Dennis Kruppke went unanswered and Die Lillien’s unbeaten league start came to an end. Despite the little bump in the road, Darmstadt charged on in clinical fashion as they put four past FSV Frankfurt, captain Aytac Sulu grabbed himself a brace, while Brégerie and Gondorf also got on the score sheet. Next up Union Berlin scored five minutes from time to snatch three points away from Darmstadt, Heller was on target for Die Lillien.

Darmstadt’s Stadion am Böllenfalltor can certainly be called a fortress, it seemed impossible to score against Darmstadt at home, let alone win. After four wins and four clean sheets at home, Fortuna Düsseldorf decided to make a visit. Within twelve minutes Düsseldorf showed everyone that scoring away to Darmstadt was possible, Joel Pohjanpalo opened the scoring and he then doubled his tally in the 26th minute. Darmstadt managed to pull a goal back just after the break thanks to Kempe, however a comeback wasn’t on as Charlison Benschop quickly responded with a goal a minute later, just before the hour mark Pohjanpalo wrapped up the scoring to secure his hat-trick. A crushing defeat for Darmstadt as their impressive home record came to an end.

Since that disappointing defeat Darmstadt have gone about their business as if it hadn’t happened, they picked themselves up to earn a 1-1 draw against Bochum, Brégerie’s goal was cancelled out by a very late equaliser from Mikael Forssell to give Bochum an undeserved point. Darmstadt got back to winning ways as they comfortably saw off Nürnberg, Stroh-Engel, Kempe and Leon-Aderemi Balogun with the goals. Up next they faced fellow promoted side Heidenheim and despite another Stroh-Engel goal, the game ended 1-1 after Smail Morabit scored his first of the season. All three promoted sides have done extremely well since getting promoted so it was a good point for Die Lillien and lastly before the international break they secured a 1-0 victory over another promoted side, RB Leipzig. Yes, you guessed it, Stroh-Engel continued his goalscoring form to get the only goal of the game. After the victory against RB Leipzig, Darmstadt find themselves in third place, four points behind Ingolstadt in first and just a point behind Düsseldorf in second.

The lowest Darmstadt have been all season is eighth place, which was back in week two and that was only because of goal difference, all of the top eight were on four points. Since then they haven’t been below sixth place and have even occupied top spot for a week, this was back in week seven.

Dirk Schuster is working wonders at Darmstadt and it’s hard not to love his team, they’ve defied all odds with a strong side that’s being lead by the towering Stroh-Engel. Since arriving from Wehen Wiesbaden, he’s scored thirty-five times, twenty-seven goals last season saw him finish the top scorer in the 3.Liga and this season he’s proved he can reach somewhere around that total again, he’s already grabbed himself eight goals, 1860’s Rubin Okotie also has eight and Bochum’s Simon Terodde has nine to his name. Not only does Stroh-Engel contribute with plenty of goals, he’s also managed to create some as well, so far he’s assisted on three occasions.

As previously mentioned Darmstatd are proving strong all round, however Schuster has put together a very strong spine, which is performing admirably, Stroh-Engel leads the line, behind him is Gondorf or Marco Sailer, then in the middle Jungwirth and Behrens have formed a great partnership and so have Brégerie and the skipper Sulu in the centre of defence. In goal Mathenia has put in some fantastic performances, rarely putting a foot wrong and is proving a great signing. Two players that also deserve a mention are the wingers, both are capable of playing behind Stroh-Engel if needed and they’ve created plenty of problems down the wings. The key man is Stroh-Engel, behind him in that list is Kempe and Heller, both have plenty of pace to burn and they have the end product to match, they’ve both scored two goals each and they both top the club’s assist chart with four assists.

Darmstadt have made a very impressive start to the season and they don’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Things are going well and providing they keep most of their players fully fit they could be this years Paderborn. If your new to the 2.Bundesliga then you should definitely keep an eye on Darmstadt, Schuster’s men are certainly keeping their fans dreaming and personally I hope the dream doesn’t come to an end.

Article for VAVEL.

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