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A year after they were relegated, Schalke booked their return to the Bundesliga with a win over St. Pauli on Saturday. True to form, it was not straighforward for the Royal Blues with drama on and off the pitch.
Things are rarely predictable where Schalke are concerned. With a win over visiting St. Pauli enough to win promotion, the Gelsenkirchen side proceeded to concede from the first two shots at their goal before roaring back to claim a memorable victory and promotion in front of a packed and partisan Veltins Arena.
One of Germany's most storied and supported clubs, Schalke dropped out of Germany's top flight last season amid a crisis that involved boadroom bust ups, mismanagement and a meat factory. Even this season, the Royal Blues were forced to cut ties with their main sponsor, Gazprom, as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
After an Igor Matanovic brace put St. Pauli, who themselves harboured prematch promotion hopes, two up after 17 minutes, the capacity crowd could have been forgiven for thinking this was another entry in a diary of decline.
But a brace from 2.Bundesliga specialist Simon Terrode, the first a penalty, in the second half restored parity before Rodrigo Zalazar's 78th minute winner sparked wild celebrations among the home crowd, with match officials even considering stopping the game at one point as a result of multiple flares in the stands.
But Schalke held their nerve, as St. Pauli lost theirs with two late red cards, to clinch a promotion that looked unlikely as recently as February. A run of seven wins from eight in the home straight has lifted Schalke to the summit.
Though second place, and automatic promotion, is assured, the second division title is not. Werder Bremen, who were also relegeated last season, play on Sunday and could yet pip Schalke to the title.
Should Bremen fail to beat Ezgebirge Aue on Sunday, the door would open for Hamburg and Darmstadt. St. Pauli's goal difference means it is all but impossible for them to be promoted, either automatically or by the relegation playoff.