If you are the sort of sports fan that I am, you nearly always have somewhat high expectations of your teams.
However, there are times you will elevate those expectations even higher than your always-high levels based on a number of factors. It could be you have an expectation of continued success of a team already doing well and naturally continuing to improve. It could also be that your team has on its schedule a fair number of opponents you simply don’t feel are quite in your team’s class.
While my Detroit Tigers clinched their spot in the World Series (of baseball, for the uninitiated) last week by dominating the sport’s premier franchise, sweeping the mighty New York Yankees out of the post-season in the minimum four games while setting records for pitching performance, the team spent most of the season not in first place in their division, despite expectations they would overwhelm the competition by sheer talent.
After a jackrabbit start, the Tigers settled into a pattern of being unable to beat some of the more lowly teams on the schedule and seemed to be willing to just get by. It ultimately took a completely collapse of the Chicago White Sox to open the door to a late-season surge into the playoffs. All summer long, many fans of the team kept watching, wondering what was wrong with the team. Every now and then, they’d have one of those games where they’d make all the right plays at crucial times to pull a victory from what appeared to be a certain loss. Every time one of those games occurred, we’d collectively wonder, “Is THAT the game that finally kick-starts the part of the season when the Tigers start dominating and rising to their expected place of power?”
Across the street (literally) from the Tigers are the NFL’s Detroit Lions, who surprised most observers with a 10-6 season and a playoff appearance just a few years removed from a record-setting 0-16 season. The Lions featured a lot of young talent at skill positions and made several late-game comebacks in a season that ignited a long-dormant interest in the city’s pro football team.
This season, the Lions have been bad, to put it simply, needing a late rally to win their first game of the season before dropping three consecutive. Last week, the Lions again trailed all day before putting together a late-game resurgence to win a road game against a team picked to be among the Super Bowl favorites for the season. And again we all wonder, “Was that the game that will get this team going back the way we thought they would?”
Hopefully, you’re not wondering where this is going, assuming you saw at least the end of the game in Regensburg over the weekend, during which the effzeh quickly turned a 2:0 deficit to a 2:3 road victory for the Billy Goats, punctuated by Sascha Bigalke’s hard-struck game-winner, with all three goals coming in the final six minutes of play.
This game definitely had a different feel from the start, alright. Stani sent the team out in a 4-3-2-1 rather than the 4-2-3-1 he’s strongly preferred not only this season, but throughout his coaching career. Also, for the second time in three matches, new fan favorite/offensive firestarter Sascha Bigalke was not in the starting eleven. Considering the new formation and the role Bigalke played in the mistake that gave Dresden their only goal in a draw on the last match day, the message seemed to be that the play of the defense needed to be addressed.
Despite the dearth of goals being scored, Köln had not struggled to get their chances in the majority of the games this season. In fact, they’ve been dominant on offense for the most part, but have either seen their shots just miss or stopped by above-average performances from opposing keepers.
It’s been frustrating.
More frustrating, however, is watching the Effzeh dominate possession and scoring opportunities for the better part of 90 minutes, only to see their opponents manage to scratch out a few decent counter-strikes with a shockingly high conversion rate. Granted, when Köln’s opponents have been rushing the opposite direction with the ball, the Köln defense is trailing too far behind, nowhere to be seen, almost as if the back four (plus the two defensive midfielders) couldn’t have conceived the ball would ever actually go back toward their own goal.
Yet, for the alterations that would seem to speak to a change in philosophy toward shutting down also those rare opponent chances, Jahn Regensburg had plenty of good looks at the net Saturday. The home team scored early, which is another theme you would like to see eliminated from Köln’s season themes soon, and failed to take a 2-goal lead in the first half only by sheer luck, when Marco Djuricin simply missed a wide-open net, firing just to the wrong side of the post.
Midway through the second half, captain Miso Brecko kept up his pace of at least one completely bone-headed play per game, dragging the curiously named Jim-Patrick Müller down in the penalty area, leaving the hosts a perfect gift of a 2:0 through penalty shot.
My knowledge of the game is not enough to where I can say for sure whether the foul should have been given or not, but what I saw was two players with almost nobody near them, which tells me that, at the very least, the referee is looking directly at them. The ball came into the area from quite a distance, so maybe the official was not that close to the play, but it seemed obvious Brecko grabbed a good handful of jersey and at least pushed down on Müller’s shoulder enough to where he could easily fall backwards and appear to have been dragged to the ground.
My analysis is, hence, awful defending by Brecko. He consistently does something borderline in dangerous spots, in my opinion. It’s driving me crazy.
What I’m thinking while watching this is that the entire plan was a failure. You’d expect to lose some of the dominance shown earlier by shifting to a more-defensive strategy, but not nearly all of it, especially since it didn’t seem to do anything to stop the surrender of great opportunities to the opponent!
Then….well…how much of that matters after the final six minutes?
All of it, I’m afraid.
As much as I’d like to think that the explosive last six minutes somehow wipes some of that out, the reality remains that the Billy Goats are prone to giving up big chances defensively. Unless you know you can count on miraculous comebacks or even consistent goal production, that’s not going to be a program for success beyond maybe mid-table residence in the second league.
Nobody wants that for this club other than Mönchengladbach fans, maybe, and whoever gets the money spent by travelling hordes of Effzeh fans who are well-represented in every away match thus far, even in the smaller towns of the second league.
The goal needs to be promotion and s0oner rather than later. We can only hope there is a strategic answer to be found soon, because last-minute redemption is not something on which you can plan.
I love the spirit we saw at the end of that game and hope it’s a sign of better things to come, but I’m also trying to keep in mind that if I let my expectations run wild after the most-fun result thus far in the season, I’m ignoring the reality of what I’m seeing.
But, yeah, despite myself, I’m still hoping for promotion.
That IS the sort of fan I am.
Come on, Effzeh!