1. FC Union Berlin and 1. FC Heidenheim played out a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday afternoon at the Alte Försterei. Union went 2-1 up through Robin Gosens and Andras Schäfer just before the break following Nikola Dovedan's early opener. But Jan-Niklas Beste would equalise later in the second half for the guests
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranović (72. Trimmel), Doekhi, Knoche, Vogt, Gosens (80. Roussillon) – Tousart, Khedira, Schäfer – Aaronson (80. Vertessen), Hollerbach (72. Kaufmann)
1. FC Heidenheim 1846: Müller – Traoré, Mainka, Gimber, Föhrenbach (72. Theuerkauf) – Schöppner (64. Beck), Maloney (83. Siersleben) - Dinkçi, Dovedan (64. Pieringer), Beste (72. Sessa)– Kleindienst
The starting XI
In the absence of Diogo Leite, suspended following his fifth yellow card of the season in last weekend’s win against Wolfsburg, Robin Knoche returned to the back three, in the middle alongside Danilho Doekhi and Kevin Vogt who had shifted across the line to the left-hand side.
They were flanked by Robin Gosens on the left and Josip Juranović, making his first start on the right since January’s draw in Freiburg.
Rani Khedira was at the base of a rapidly familiar looking midfield, with Lucas Tousart and Andras Schäfer, while up front Benedict Hollerbach got his seventh start in a row, playing this time with Brenden Aaronson, reaping the rewards of his winner last weekend.
Goals: 0-1 Dovedan (3.), 1-1 Gosens (43.), 2-1 Schäfer (45. + 2), 2-2 Beste (71.)
Heidenheim take an early lead, but Union turn the tide late.
Nine years and two days ago Union beat Heidenheim 3-1 at the Alte Försterei. Some things about this game, the next time they'd meet in Berlin, were very, very different for both clubs, neither of whom had ever played in the Bundesliga back then, but some things were eerily similar.
At least they were for a bit.
Christopher Trimmel had just celebrated his 28th birthday; now it was his 37th, and the roars that rung through the stadium as his name was read out on the list of subs were as great as they ever were today.
But just as then, the joy of the Unioner in the stands was dampened almost immediately, as the guests took the lead after two minutes. It was somehow strange not to see Mark Schnatterer scoring it.
Union had seemed curiously uncertain in their passing at the back initially; Juranović misplaced one, Doekhi undercooked one, and Vogt headed one high, back towards Rönnow, but only as far as the gap that Nikola Dovedan was running into. Rönnow had no chance as he took a touch and finished.
So much for history. This game would prove far more compelling than its predecessor, as its result would prove to be different too.
Gosens tried to set an example, to show a way out of Union's early predicament. He is a player as hard-bitten as he is intelligent, and he wouldn’t stop running all day long. He waved wildly as Union won a free kick at the back, pointing out the space he was in, but as he raced into a tackle that he had little right to win (even though he did) with Omar Traoré, he clattered into the advertising hoarding at pace, holding his knee in agony as he went down, requiring treatment.
Few could accuse him of not giving his all, and only a minute or two later he was back on the pitch and on the end of a lovely switched ball from Vogt. He laid it off for Aaronson who found Schäfer, whose shot went out for a corner.
Schäfer then found Juranović with a diagonal ball across the pitch, his cross to the back post almost turned in by the ever-willing Gosens, knowing that he’d be there, his late run into exactly that spot now a trademark.
But Heidenheim are not the surprise package of the league for nothing. Eren Dinkci found Jan-Niklas Beste with a long diagonal ball and Juranović had to make his charge and tackle perfect to hinder the shot before it came.
As Bjelica said, after the final whistle, "It was a very open game. Both teams had phases in which they were very strong, especially in the first half when Heidenheim could have gone one better.”
With almost half an hour played, Gosens, Hollerbach and Tousart were all in the box, fighting for a ball in from the left; still, though they improved as the half went on, Union were at this point a little imprecise in their attacks.
Aaronson cut inside Benedikt Gimber in the box but couldn’t work the ball to Hollerbach or squeeze off a shot of his own. Doekhi then put a header wide that came from a corner, created by a little moment of Schäfer magic as he skipped past Jan Schöppner with a beautiful touch; as it took a superb intervention from the well-received, and impressive former Unioner, Lennard Maloney, to stop Tousart’s imaginative ball out towards Aaronson who was getting away on the right.
Hollerbach then couldn’t get his foot around one he intended for the top corner after Knoche had found Gosens a metre the better of Traoré and laid the ball off. Schäfer drove wide with his left from 25 yards with just over five minutes of the half left to play.
But Union would equalise with only a couple of minutes of the half to play. Robin Gosens completed a long meandering run across the box as Juranović saw his shot get caught up in the crowd and bounce off Patrick Mainka. He flicked it past Müller without breaking stride from inside the six-yard box and continued on his way, towards the main stand, his sixth goal in the league in the bag.
There was chaos at the other end suddenly as Rönnow had to sweep away another moment of panic at the back, but the ball suddenly broke for Union through Gosens, again, the adrenaline still coursing through his body. Schäfer took it on his toe, instinctively taking a step forward and shot, the ball taking a flick off the back of Aaronson on its way, and past the luckless Müller.
Union come out confident, Heidenheim equalise
Union were superb as the second half started, their trio of Hollerbach, Schäfer and Aaronson wreaking havoc. Hollerbach robbed Jonas Föhrenbach, who found Schäfer whose shot was saved by Müller. The Heidenheim winger then had to be on his toes to stop Aaronson as he tried to twist and turn his way past him following Rönnow’s 45-yard throw-out along the right.
A minute later it was Maloney’s turn to chip in, this time he just got in ahead of the flying American, just as he had to on the other flank shortly after that. Aaronson was in the best form of his time at Union so far, his shoulders back, his head up, his pace being given the space to shine, just as it was for Juranović as he burst past two on his way into the box.
Mainka headed just wide at the back post not long after Jan-Niklas Beste had floored Juranović, unseen by the referee, Deniz Aytekin. While Rönnow, of course, was as calm and as cool as ever, always there to take the deep Heidenheim crosses into the box, commanding his area such as when Traoré hit one in from way out on the right, or when he refused to buckle under Tim Kleindienst’s pressure.
But then Beste, who had scored the only goal the last time the sides met, suddenly found himself haring onto a forty-yard hail Mary-like ball, hit with perfection by Dinkci, with Doekhi chasing back on his own. He hit the ball first time, catching it perfectly, lifting it over the head of Rönnow with ease. It was 2-2.
Bjelica already had his changes ready, Trimmel came on for Juranović and Mikkel Kaufmann for Hollerbach
Trimmel immediately almost made an impact with a gorgeous ball that the excellent Tousart – whose form has also made him one of Bjelica’s first names on the list - headed just over the bar from the penalty spot.
As the game grew stretched and the players legs tired it took late tackles from Schäfer and Trimmel to stop Marvin Pieringer and Dinkci respectively. The birthday boy would make another ahead of the latter with under ten minutes to play, as Aaronson and Gosens, both of whom had run themselves into the ground, were replaced by Yorbe Vertessen and Jérôme Roussillon.
It then took a superb stop from Tim Siersleben to stop Vertessen’s dancing run towards the box, but by this point the players were at their very limits.
Vertessen would get a shot on the turn. Roussillon took off his gloves for a throw in near the corner flag and launched it into the box but it wasn’t to be. He then burst past Gimber and was bundled to the ground with little grace. The ball came into the box and came out again, despite Kaufmann’s best efforts, and the resulting throw was this time volleyed over by Doekhi.
"We came back strongly and then unfortunately conceded the equalizer. But that's soccer, sometimes you're lucky and sometimes unlucky," said Bjelica.
But that was that. For all things stay the same, the more things change. Or as Bjelica would have it, “We came back strongly and then unfortunately conceded the equalizer. But that's football, sometimes you're lucky and sometimes unlucky,"
Union and Heidenheim are now in 9th and 12th in the Bundesliga respectively. It all seems so far, from the 2. Liga, and those second minute goals.