Düsseldorf - They came, they saw and, however unwillingly, they left again. A twelve-game winless streak down the final straight, culminating in five successive defeats, left Fortuna Düsseldorf condemned at the end of Matchday 34 to the second automatic relegation spot.
2013 form slump
After a single season the Bundesliga dream that had been 15 years in the making was over - for the time being, at least. For Norbert Meier, who in his five-and-a-half-year tenure had taken Fortuna from third-flight strugglers back to German football's top table, the harsh laws of life at the cutting edge of the professional game swiftly kicked into force, as the Rhineland club opted for a parting of ways with the head coach just over a week after their fate was sealed.
The ending though, was a far cry from the team's situation at the midway stage of the campaign. Düsseldorf went into the winter break 13th in the table on 21 points, nine clear of third-bottom Hoffenheim and with a cushion of no less than twelve to 17th-placed FC Augsburg. At that juncture, staying afloat in their first season back in the Bundesliga seemed a distinctly manageable proposition.
Instead, a disastrous second half of the season, yielding a meagre nine points more, allowed a revitalised Augsburg to sweep past them to safety and Hoffenheim to steal into the relegation/promotion play-off in dramatic fashion at the last.
No rub of the green
So where did it all go wrong? For one thing, the picture was not quite as black and white as those half-season statistics might suggest. Well-organised and with excellent team spirit, Düsseldorf were rarely outclassed over the course of the campaign, losing no less than eleven games - some of them very unluckily - by just a single goal.
One such was the 2013 league reopener at home to Augsburg. The struggling visitors took advantage of serial defensive mistakes and two own-goals to go 3-0 in front and although Stefan Reisinger clawed two goals back for Fortuna, the pattern was set for the remainder of the campaign. Even then, Meier's men responded by winning their next two home games against Stuttgart and Fürth, moving eleven points clear of the play-off place in the process.
Back to Bundesliga 2
Battling performances, ultimately unrewarded, followed against the likes of Schalke 04 and even away to a red-hot FC Bayern, but by Matchday 28 Düsseldorf's comfort zone had shrunk to five points. Then came a 3-0 defeat at Hoffenheim and from there on in, the downward slide was inexorable. The low point came in a desperately poor performance at home to 1. FC Nuremberg on the penultimate matchday, before the final opportunity to at least earn a shot at the play-offs was likewise passed up in Hanover.
A season that had started so brightly, then - Fortuna were unbeaten in their first six games of the season and did not even concede a goal in the opening five - ended in the desperate disappointment of an immediate return to life in the second flight. The task for Meier's successor will be to lay the foundations for another assault on the Bundesliga - and no-one connected with the club would like to think it will take another 15 years to get there again.
Tobias Gonscherowski / Angus Davison