Hanover - Self-belief, focus and determination. Three key qualities associated with Hannover 96 under head coach Mirko Slomka, all of which were on show again as an 86th-minute strike by maintained the Reds' incredible unbeaten home run on Matchday 7.
April 2011 was the last time Hannover's fans saw their team come off second-best in the Bundesliga at the AWD Arena and, while Borussia Dortmund came within a whisker of bringing their run to an end in Sunday's 1-1 draw, the 96ers' hard graft was ultimately rewarded.
At first glance their record of 22 games unbeaten on home soil does not look all that special given that longer streaks have been recorded by 13 different clubs on 26 occasions since the Bundesliga was founded in 1963. Hannover's current stretch certainly pales in comparison with Bayern Munich's record of 73 matches unbeaten, which spanned four years between April 1970 and September 1974. However, the Reds' achievement is certainly the best in recent history. The last run longer than theirs came to an end back in March 2003, when Bayern went 33 games unbeaten at their old Olympiastadion home.
Formerly a side who would have settled for a comfortable spot in mid-table, the Reds have scored 44 and conceded 24 in their successful quest to turn the AWD Arena into a fortress - and that during a period in Bundesliga history widely considered one of the most competitive in decades.
No 'I' in 'team'
One of the factors in Hannover's incredible home form has been the unity within the squad. Since taking charge in January 2010, a year in which the 96ers came perilously close to relegation, Mirko Slomka has established the Reds as a team capable of competing for Europe time and again. In his first full season, the 45-year-old guided the Lower Saxony side to a best-ever fourth-placed finish, topping their previous best of fifth spot in their inaugural Bundesliga campaign in 1964/65.
Shrewd signings have facilitated the construction of a side which blends experience with youthful verve, the key ingredients to any successful counterattacking team. may have stolen the headlines so far this term, but one of the main reasons Hannover are so appealing to Bundesliga neutrals at present is their reliance on team spirit as opposed to one or two star names.
Closing down space and doubling up on opponents, then getting forward in numbers make the 96ers extremely difficult to defend against. Couple that with the plethora of attacking options Slomka has at his disposal and you have a potent combination of attacking dynamism and defensive discipline.
Club captain , a Red throughout his professional career, has witnessed Hannover's ascent from struggling Bundesliga 2 side to one capable of competing against the best Germany has to offer. "We want to cement our place at the top," the US international said in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com.
Hannover and their fans will be aware of the fact that all good things come to an end, but for now their home form is a reliable source of points. If they can begin to emulate it on the road, the 96ers could well be on their way to fulfilling president Martin Kind's dream of UEFA Champions League football at the AWD Arena.