The revival in HSV's fortunes since their Dutch playmaker swapped Tottenham Hotspur for his former stomping ground at the end of August was abruptly derailed on Sunday, when visitors VfB Stuttgart departed with a 1-0 win in the bag.
Van der Vaart came close to grabbing what would have been a somewhat flattering equaliser, but the loss serves as a salient reminder, should one be needed, that Hamburg still have a long way to go to reestablish themselves in the upper echelons of the German game.
“It’s always bitter to lose and of course we would have loved to have climbed up a few more places. But a few weeks ago we were relegation candidates and now all of a sudden we're meant to be challenging for a place in the Champions League challengers. No, we're not that far yet. We need to remain grounded and focused on the job in hand," van der Vaart told bundesliga.com after the match.
Missing the vital spark
Ten points from the first four games following van der Vaart’s re-arrival had indeed kindled dreams of higher places in those among the HSV faithful for whom the gifted midfielder really is a talismanic figure. With Stuttgart taking to the pitch at the IMTECH Arena perched just above the relegation zone, most would have been expecting another win to be added to that tally at the weekend.
That was not how it turned out however and van der Vaart readily conceded that, "We were always a step off the pace, which meant we weren't able to exert enough pressure of our own. VfB know how to play football and they really took advantage of the space we allowed them. But I'd said before the match that Stuttgart are an excellent team."
Me and my shadow
Not that it's back to the drawing board quite yet of course, with the Red Shorts still comfortably mid-table, as opposed to those early weeks of the season where they were lingering at or around the bottom. Opposition defences may, though, be starting to adjust to van der Vaart's presence. On Sunday he had VfB's William Kvist on his case throughout and to good effect: “I need the ball, it’s as simple as that and unfortunately, against Stuttgart I wasn't getting it. When Marcus Berg came on, I dropped deeper and saw a bit more possession. Overall though, we just didn't find our rhythm and VfB were good value for the win."
As for the significance of the defeat from Hamburg's perspective, van der Vaart is confident that it will prove to be merely a blip in the general upward curve. That said, "We need to make up for it straight away - at Augsburg, on Friday."