Hamburg - They may have ended 2012 with more of a whimper than a bang, going down 3-0 at second-place Bayer Leverkusen, but all-in-all Hamburger SV can look back on a first season-half whose overall trajectory was upward.

Second-bottom of the table, without a point to their name, Hamburg hosted Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 4. The defending German champions arrived on a 31-game unbeaten run in the Bundesliga - just five shy of HSV's own all-time record from the early 1980s. But Hamburg pulled off a dramatic 3-2 victory, freshly returned playmaker Rafael van der Vaart setting up their first two goals, before Heung-Min Son nabbed the decisive third. The Red Shorts' season was belatedly under way.

Son's scoring exploits and Rene Adler's goalkeeping renaissance have earned their share of the headlines, but there can be little doubt that the arrival of has been the single biggest defining factor in Hamburg's recovery from that lamentable season start. Signed at the end of August for a second stint with the club, the gifted Dutch international has swiftly brought his guile and vast experience to bear.

Yet Hamburg's midfield is anything but a one-man band. arrived from Dinamo Zagreb in the summer and has only missed one game since. Operating for the most part in a deeper holding role, the 23-year-old Croatia international with the cultivated right foot has been instrumental to the team's increasingly well-ordered defensive play. His top-drawer technique and vision come to the fore when the Red Shorts switch upfield at speed.

5 - Number of points better off Hamburg are five than at the same stage lat season (24 compared to 19)
6 - Number of clean sheets reocrded by HSV - the thrid best quota in the division.
21 - Total number of goals conceded by Hamburg, the fourth best record in the league.
9 - Number of times HSV have taken the lead and not lost (7 wins, 2 draws)

"When I started here 14 months ago, we had the odd case of someone thinking he was already something special. Now, everybody understands that Hamburger SV are a team," head coach Thorsten Fink reflects on the job so far.