1. FC Union Berlin: Grill – Trimmel (61. Ryerson), Jaeckel (70. Bruns), Knoche (61. Skarke), Leite (61. Doekhi), Puchacz (61. Gießelmann) – Seguin (Thorsby), Kemlein (46. Haberer), Haraguchi (Pantovic) – Michel (Becker), Behrens (Siebatcheu)
FC St. Gallen: Watkowiak (46. Dumrath) – Sutter (46. Kräuchi), Stergiou (46. Karlen), Maglica (46. Nuhu), Kempter (46. Guindo) – Guidotti (46. Jacovic) – Schneider (46. Münst), Görtler (43. Stillhart), Witzig (46. Schmidt) - Latte Lath (46. Cavegn), Ndombasi (46. Alves)
Goals: 1-0 Paul Seguin (33) 2-0, Christopher Trimmel (38), 2-1 Robin Knoche o.g. (45), 3-1 Tim Skarke (67), 4-1 Niko Giesselmann (76)
Union control the game, but lack an edge at first
Urs Fischer played 243 times for FC St. Gallen. Only a handful of players have ever worn the famous green of the “Espen” more, and his love for the club is undeniable. He even took a pay cut to stay with them when they were relegated in 1993 (Fischer is, of course a man of his word). But, despite his protestations, that he never looks back at games already played, he has less happy memories of them since then. Such as the 19th of January 2020 when they came to the Alte Försterei and won 2-1. Or the 6th of October 2021 when they did the same but better, 3-1.
So, he wasn’t leaving much to chance here, reverting back to his favoured three at the back for the first half at least of this second last test before Christmas. But it was the introduction of Aljoscha Kemlein that really raised an eyebrow. The midfielder had been given a professional contract at the beginning of the season, and was there as Union travelled around Europe, but he’d not had the chance to impose himself on a game as yet. Now was his moment, playing at the base of midfield, the pivot, the water carrier in turquoise boots, a long stride and blonde hair.
It was a quiet start. In fact, it was a quiet half. As in the opening phases of Wednesday’s match against Hansa Rostock Union’s openings were few at first, but those that were were largely being carved out down the left where Tymtoeusz Puchacz was always keen to get the ball at his toe. And when it did come down the other flank after ten minutes Christopher Trimmel mis-hit his cross, leaving Kevin Behrens, both hands raised in frustration, alone in the box.
Sven Michel spotted the St. Gallen keeper, Lukas Watkoviak, off his line and tried to chip him from the half way line. The ball rolled into the step of the keeper and the striker looked back at Behrens with a puff of his cheeks and a smile on his face. Behren’s flicked a looping ball over his head for Puchachz, but the wingback slightly over-hit his first touch and ran into Patrick Sutter.
Diogo Leite tackled Randy Schneider with a perfect slide inside his own box, taking just the right amount of man with the ball to let him know he was there.
Genki Haraguchi was growing increasingly influential, finding space in the middle to open up St. Gallen. First he found Trimmel on the right. Then he was at the beginning of a moment of near balletic beauty, a flash of colour on a grey, cold Berlin afternoon. He found Puchacz down the left again, and his deep, outwards curling cross was knocked down by Michel for his partner up front, a belated apology for the attempted lob. Behrens took his time, and righted himself, his back to goal, jumping and hitting a bicycle kick towards the inside of the back post. It was, however artful, hoicked away into the skies above Köpenick by Leonidas Stergiou.
It was Haraguchi too who set up Unions best chance up to that point hitting another ball to Puchacz who slipped it in to a Sven Michel, so calm he was almost flat-lining, and in fact should have done more than clip his shot at the keeper.
If Union were the better side on the pitch, then they were also possibly guilty of taking this a little too easily. They were betraying a lack of bite that their boss would have been fuming over, the thoughts of the looming resumption of the Bundesliga at the forefront of his mind, the memories of the last two friendlies, gnawing away, however slightly, at the back.
St. Gallen weren’t without their own chances, giving the cluster of Swiss fans in the fringe of the main stand something to warm them. Schneider suddenly burst into a gap but his shot was straight at Lennart Grill. He’d make a better stop from Matej Magliuca’s lovely free kick a couple of minutes later, leaping full to his right to palm the ball away.
Finally, however, Union took the lead after 33 minutes, Paul Seguin side-footing the ball over the line after another neat move involving both Trimmel and Puchacz. Trimmel would double it after Michel’s shot was parried only as far as him five minutes later. He hit it with his left into the huge gap in front of him. It had been almost too easy, he turned away, a humble grin on his face.
But despite their deserved lead, the very last action of the half will have left the boss livid. Diogo Leite gave the ball away with uncharacteristic lacksadaisicality to Emmanuelle Latte Lath. He cut inside, taking the ball to the by-line, and clipping it across goal where Robin Knoche unintentionally headed into an empty net. ´The ball flew with the slow motion inevitability of an oncoming car crash. He watched it float all the way over the line, disbelieving, his heart sinking, knowing there was little he could do to prevent it.
Many changes; more goals
Kemlein wouldn’t make it out for the second half. He was replaced by Janik Haberer, his place slipped into by Paul Seguin. Meanwhile Peter Zeidler, St. Gallen’s coach sent out an almost entirely new eleven, and a switch to three at the back, too. They looked bright, Gregory Karlen dancing through into the box, Ricardo Alves winning a free kick on the edge of the box that he himself bent into the grasp of Grill.
Isaac Schmidt then set up Alves again who flashed a wild shot a mile wide.
But it was all still a little slow. The clutch of St. Gallen fans chanted sporadically, the Unioner louder, and with more regularity, but one got the impression it was, if not out of obligation, a muscle memory of bigger games here than out of any great sense of conviction, then at least not as full blooded and full bellied as usual. Even though there were still occasional moments to get them going. Puchacz burst past Karlen along the left. Basil Stilhart banged Behrens into the advertising hoarding with a crash.
He offered his hand but the Unioner made a show of refusing it.
It was with half an hour to go that Fischer made eight changes, reaping immediate rewards as Sheraldo Becker flew down the right, and cut back into the box where Tim Skarke was on hand to score his first goal for Union. He would almost have his second 15 minutes later as Watkoviak did well to get down at full length to tip a driven shot of his wide of the right hand upright.
Julian Ryerson scampered and battled at right-back, Jordan pushed and pulled and dragged the St. Gallen defenders around. And Niko Giesselmann made it four with a low, well hit shot from distance that worked its way through the box like a latecomer to a fight, its elbows out, pushing its way into gaps in the crowd.
Morton Thorsby had a header beaten away, Milos Pantovic hit the base of the post, Mathis Bruns - who had come on at centre-back with twenty minutes to go, and who Urs Fischer seems to be developing a liking for after his start on Wednesday - saw a shot roll wide.
Fischer said after the game that Union had been good in places, and less so in others, which is about as definitive as he'll get after a game, and was also about right. but he had a smile on his face as he said it. It was nice, he said, to see some old faces, and he's sure that St. Gallen will be back.
But as the skies darkened and the pitch started to re-freeze the referee decided that that was that. Union had been decisive in the end, and they had lifted the thoughts of a hoodoo with Swiss intonations and a place in Urs Fischer’s heart.