VfB Stuttgart earned their first victory in the 2. Bundesliga, as they look for an immediate return to Germany's top flight, as they overcame FC St. Pauli in a decisively second half show from the hosts and the Mercedes Benz Arena.
It was the visitors that dominated the first half in Swabia, and they deservdely took the lead after soom neat play by Fafà Picault saw Aziz Bouhaddouz presented with a golden opportunity to score a debut goal - which he duely took.
However, Jos Luhukay's side fought back in the second period and goals from Alexandru Maxim and a late Christian Gentner strike were enough to see die Schwaben get off to a winning start in the second tier.
Although thoroughly outplayed in the first half, die Schwaben showed real grit and determination to turn around the game in the second half. A trait that will serve them in good stead throughout the season, if Stuttgart are to return to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking.
St. Pauli welcome Stuttgart to the second tier with a thud
The early proceedings from a VfB Stuttgart perspective didn't match up to the very vociferous atmosphere that the home fans were creating at the Mercedes Benz Arena. From the get go, it was Ewald Lienen's athletic St. Pauli that harssed and harried their Swabian counterparts.
However perhaps against the run of play, the best chance of the opening twenty minutes fell to Jos Luhukay's, Stuttgart. A long, looping Emiliano Insúa clearance looked like simple work for Philipp Ziereis, but Simon Terodde pressured the central defender into missing the ball leaving the former VfL Bochum man a clear run on goal. Terodde advanced toward the Robin Himmelmann, but the visiting goalkeeper stood firm and smothered the eventual shot from the burly center forward.
Terodde was last seasons top scorer in the 2. Bundesliga with 25 goals, and his signing at the Mercedes Benz Arena was meant to provide die Schwaben with the goals for an imediate return to Germany's top flight. However on this occasion, the former Bochum man was unable to start repaying his £3 million transfer fee, in what proved a frustrating night for the 28 year old.
Stuttgart would soon rue that miss, as die Freibeuter would take the lead and the raucous home atmosphere would be replaced by the jubilation of the 3,000 or so travelling St. Pauli fans.
Fafà Picault picked up the ball in the right flank after a Waldemar Sobota pass, and using his blistering pace he first beat Insùa before skipping past Stephen Sama. The attacker then squared for Aziz Bouhaddouz, who expertly cushioned the ball into an empty net. It would have been quite easy for Bouhaddouz to skew his effort, and he showed good technique to earn a debut goal. Die Freibeuter giving a clear message to the hosts, that life in the second tier will not be easy.
Picault proved a real thorn in the side of the entire VfB Stuttgart defence throughout, especially Insùa and Sama. Jürgen Klinsmann has recently handed him an international for the US against Puerto Rico, and the attacker was replicating the very same form that earned him his national team call up at the end of the last campaign.
Stuttgart's largest problem last season was their frailty at the back, and the first half exchanges in Monday nights game suggested that things might not be so different this season. Soon after St. Pauli were ahead they should have been further ahead, as die Schwaben's pourous defence was beaten; on more than one occasions from their own doing, as well.
Firstly straight after Bouhaddouz's strike the ever lively Picault once again tormenting Insúa and Sama, although on this occasions Mitchell Langerak stood tall to parry away for a corner. Then after Christian Gentner presented St. Pauli with a freekick, Jean Philipp Kalla whipped the ball onto the head of Bouhaddouz - who's header curled agonisingly wide, with Langerak rooted to the spot. Perhaps an easier chance than the earlier goal.
The Moroccan had an even better chance moments later however, after Florian Klein's missplaced pass was latched onto by Picault. The US international drove towards the Stuttgart defence, before rolling the ball into the path of Bouhaddouz. The St. Pauli striker went even closer, after placing the ball under the on-rushing Australian goalkeeper; but thankfully for Luhukay's side, the post prevented die Schwaben from falling further behind.
However towards the end of the half, there were signs of what was to come in the second as Stuttgart grew into the game. If it hadn't have been for the linesmen's flag they might have been level after Sama placed a header from Gentner delivery beyond Himmelmann.
Fortunes reversed in the second half
The introduction of Alexandru Maxim in place of the ineffective Philip Heise imedditaely turned the game in favour of die Schwaben, VfB Stuttgart. The Romanian's fleet of foot proved a real problem for the St. Pauli backline, and his early effort that curled just wide of Himmelmann's goal proving a sign of things to come.
Stephen Sama was dominant in the air throughout, and after his first half header was ruled for offside he went one step closer within fifteen minutes of the restart as only the woodwork was inbetween Stuttgart with an equaliser.
But with the pressure mounting, the Cannstatter Kurve wouldn't have to wait long for an equaliser. A classic counter attack move, Langerak played away Maxim who drove towards the isolated Lasse Sobiech. As evident with Picault in the first half, back off at your peril and the attacking midfielder cut in onto his right foot and using Sobiech as a shield, curled his low effort beyond the unsighted Himmelmann.
Incidently, the goal had come moments after die Freibeuter could have extended their lead. It required Langerak to parry away a Kalla effort, after some pinball in the Stuttgart box and subsequently St. Pauli paid the ultimate price.
As the game entered the final stages, Stuttgart ramped up the pressure in search of an elusive winner. Ewald Lienen's side were a spent force, and were quite happy to take a point back to the far North of Germany.
However, they'd be going home empty handed as the Mercedes Benz Arena was sent into raptures late on as die Schwaben grabbed a late winner. That man again, Maxim, at the fore as he picked up the pieces after Sobiech cleared a cross. The half time substitute teed up Insùa for a driven effort, which was deflected into the path of Christian Gentner to bundle in. The appeals for offside from die Freibeuter in vain, as Jeremy Dudziak appeared to be playing the Stuttgart captain on side with little over five minutes left on referee, Benjamin Brand's watch.
Gentner, a product of the Stuttgart youth academy, one of the stars to remain at the Mercedes Benz Arena following die Schwaben's relegation last campaign. The fan favourite, and club captain, coming up with the goal that would ensure that VfB Stuttgart begin life in the 2. Bundesliga with a victory.