The race for a place in the top flight next season is tighter than ever before with all nine sides in the top half of Bundesliga 2 in the running for promotion.
The north-German club led Darmstadt by just a single point ahead of the first round of matches in 2022, but Germany's Kult Klub found themselves a point off the pace after four matches of the Rückrunde. Werder Bremen are now tied with them on points, while Schalke, Hamburg and Heidenheim - only separated by goal-difference - are just two points off top spot.
There will be no resting on laurels in any of those camps, with the last word in one of the tightest battles for promotion ever far from spoken, such is the pedigree of clubs waiting in the wings to secure their passage to the Bundesliga in 2022/23.
Pauli will most likely think they were cursed the moment they became Herbstmeister for the first time in their history. Arminia Bielefeld (2019/20) are the only club leading at the midway stage of the past five season to transform that into promotion at the end of the campaign. Hamburg (2018/19, 2020/21), Holstein Kiel (2017/18) and Eintracht Braunschweig (2016/17) all managed to slip away in the second half of the season.
Their seven-point advantage over third place after 17 games of the season was also a greater gap than any of those teams had. Surrendering top spot in derby defeat to HSV will have made it an even more bitter experience for Pauli. Now, however, they are on the brink of slipping out of the top three but victory in their next outing could just as easily move them back up to first - it really is so tight at the top.
Darmstadt, meanwhile, enjoyed a 4-0 win over Pauli on Matchday 14 in a stunning end to 2021 which saw them pick up 25 from a possible 30 points since crushing Sandhausen 6-1 on Matchday 9. A draw and a win after the first two rounds of 2022 was enough to leapfrog Pauli, but vertigo appears to have struck them too, and Pauli's city rivals Hamburg helped their neighbours - and themselves - out on Matchday 21 with a win in Darmstadt.
Watch: Darmstadt 4-0 St. Pauli - highlights
Seven wins from seven have seen Werder straddle the New Year in style, chalking up 18 goals across those victories as they climbed to third in their continued bid to earn an immediate return to the top flight. Schalke, Hamburg and Heidenheim are then at the head of the pack of clubs all jostling for what would be a promotion play-off against the team finishing third from bottom of the Bundesliga.
Four points further adrift are Nuremberg (33 points) and then early-season pace-setters Jahn Regensburg (31), followed by Paderborn (31) in ninth place. It all makes for an intriguing remainder of the season in a league which has never been so tight since the three points for a win rule was introduced in 1995.
Effectively, half of the division are still in the race for promotion.
Watch: Darmstadt beat Ingolstadt 2-0 on Matchday 20 to move into first-place
If anybody can make up for lost ground in the Rückrunde it is Paderborn, who have proven particular pedigree in such a pursuit. In 2018/19, the East Westphalians were six points behind third place, and eight adrift of an automatic promotion berth, yet they were promoted under current Cologne coach Steffen Baumgart as runners-up. Similarly, in 2013/14 – the season of their first ever promotion to the Bundesliga – they were six points adrift of second, which is where they ended the campaign.
With plenty of points still up for grabs, much can still change between now and May, and that can only mean one thing: the drama is not yet over in this topsy-turvy tussle for a place at German football's top table next term.
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