Union won their final friendly of a long winter break against MŠK Žilina 3-1, through goals scored by Genki Haraguchi, Danilho Doekhi and Kevin Behrens. They can now look forward to the re-start of the Bundesliga against Hoffenheim next Saturday.
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel, Doekhi, Knoche (76. Leite), Baumgartl (46. Jaeckel), Ryerson (46. Gießelmann) – Haraguchi (68. Öztunali), Kemlein (68. Möhwald), Haberer – Skarke (68. Pantovic), Siebatcheu (61. Behrens)
MSK Zilina: Belko – Rusnak (46. Kopasek), Stojchevski (46. Leitner), Minarik (46. Kopas), Nemcik (62. Ndjeungoue) – Gidi (46. Sauer), Ilko (46. Anang), Bari – Kapralik, Jambor (62. Krstic), Essomba (46. Owusu)
Goals: 1:0 Haraguchi (21.), 1:1 Jambor (27.), 2:1 Doekhi (43.), 3:1 Behrens (80.)
All roads lead to home.
Next week 1.FC Union Berlin will re-start – and hope to continue - the most successful top flight campaign in their history when they host Hoffenheim here, at the Alte Försterei. But by then it will have been 69 days since their last league match against Freiburg. 69 days including a-week-and-a-bit in a Spanish training camp, a Christmas, a World Cup, some experiments between 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, as well as wins in friendlies against St. Pauli, Hansa Rostock, St. Gallen, and two in a single day against Augsburg.
Now this, the final stretch, an at times routine, at others lacksadaisical win over Slovakian first division side MŠK Žilina. Urs Fischer said afterwards he was unhappy during the first half, particularly, but that's his job. In the morning he may also reflect on the positives. It's been six games, and six wins.
For Žilina this would prove important too. Their participation in the playoff round to become Slovakian champions for the eighth time is hanging in the balance with only four games to play.
But for Fischer who has been working towards next week with a determined focus, there were other things out of his control that were hardly ideal, particularly in the fact that he was missing several players due to the perennial Berlin sicknesses. Whether this was, a factor in his decision to discontinue his experiment with a 4-4-2 was unlikely. That would come in time.
Union edge the first half in tricky conditions
So Julian Ryerson and Christopher Trimmel lined up either side of Danilho Doekhi, Robin Knoche and Timo Baumgartl, with the ever-improving Aljoscha Kemlein sweeping up behind Janik Haberer and Genki Haraguchi. Tim Skarke would complete the forward line alongside Jordan Siebatcheu, despite injury concerns ahead of the game, fresh from his converted penalty in the first of those games against Augsburg.
Union started fast. Jordan and Haraguchi combining with Haberer on the left. But the wind was strong, as was the cold, cold rain. The pitch showed the signs of having been re-laid in the week. The skies were dark already at kick off. The conditions made things tricky.
Danilho Doekhi’s touch was unusually heavy as he mis-controlled a Baumgartl ball, then Skarke ran onto a mistake from Patrik Ilko. He danced, a step-over here, a rangy stride there, and slipped a delightful ball through to Jordan. His finish ended up squirming out to Kemlein who shot wide. Haberer’s attempt a couple of minutes later had a similar destiny, having cut inside from the left again, aiming for the top corner of the back post.
Skarke, at the heart of a lot of Union’s action going forward, tumbled backwards, his studs caught in the turf. He let out a cry of frustration as he went down. The striker complete a glorious little flick over Ilko's head near the end of the half, but again the chance drifted away into nothing.
But Union weren't as in control of the game as they may have hoped.
Frederik Rönnow – and how nice it was to see him back having missed the end of the season through injury - held a sharp shot from the edge of the box by Adrian Kapralik. Samuel Gidi drove one wide from a similar position. He found Timotej Jambor with a lovely ball after quarter of an hour, just before Adrian Kapralik headed over when he found himself free in the box, the target wide open before him. He flashed at it when he should have scored.
Union were stung by that, reacting almost immediately. Ryerson – who’d been increasing his influence on the game steadily, stepping higher and higher up the left, completing more and more of those lung-bursting runs he makes look so simple as a part of his daily business - clipped a cross into the six yard box. Genki Haraguchi had timed his run to perfection, heading home with all the time in the world.
However, it was Ryerson who would be involved as Kapralik suddenly nipped into a gap between him and Rönnow, going down under the keeper’s challenge at his feet. The referee pointed straight at the spot, but Rönnow was incensed. Jambor converted the spot-kick without fuss. It was 1-1.
Kapralik was increasingly involved, his chipped shot over Rönnow drifting well wide. Then, with ten minutes remaining Andrej Stojchevski shot just wide following a cleverly worked free kick for the Slovakians.
Fischer said later how unhappy he was at times during that half. Union were taking it far too easily he said. He doesn’t like resting on his laurels, it was “not good,” he said.
Union took the lead with just a couple of minutes to go til the break when Doekhi managed to stab the ball past Lubomir Belko from the shortest of ranges, following a corner from the left that somehow eluded everyone it passed along the way. The keeper, falling back, had no chance.
A second half of many changes, and one more goal
Fischer brought Niko Giesselmann and Paul Jaeckel on for Ryerson and Baumgartl.
But it was Jambor who would have the first effort on goal of the half as he dashed onto a superb through ball into the inside right channel. Rönnow did well to get down to stop his shot.
Union won a string of corners, Haraguchi hammered a wild drive wide of the left hand post, but the opening phases of the second half were a little flat. Rönnow and Knoche and Jaeckel playing keep-ball, the fans amusing themselves with occasional choruses and even more occasional pantomime booing, such as when Benson Anang caught Kemlein, their young starlet, who again had an encouraging game in the middle and can’t be far away from making his Bundesliga debut soon.
The rain was getting heavier and heavier, and was still playing in the wind, lit up by the glare of the floodlights.
Kevin Behrens replaced Jordan, and could have done better when he shot straight at Belko after 65 minutes, choosing for power when placement was required. Levin Öztunali would see his dainty chip knocked wide for a corner having tricked his way past two in the box. He can’t buy a goal it seems, his final touch was then just a little too heavy when through with only five minutes to go. Later he saw his shot, from the left this time, deflected over.
But it was Öztunali’s fine footwork though that would lead him to setting up Behrens to make it three with ten minutes to go. The striker hammered the ball upwards into the roof of the net from six yards out. As a finish, a strike as a cathartic response, it was emphatic.
As things were in danger of drifting away like the rubbish in the wind Krisztian Bari squeezed a shot off from the edge of the box.
It was Doekhi who responded loudest. He roared. Wake up. Concentrate. It is still a game, it’s still important, he implored. He’d been superb again all afternoon, besides his goal. He'd been dominant on the ball, strong in the air, fast when tracking back. Not including his astonishing winner against Gladbach, the Dutchman has been making himself indispensable here for a while now.
He said after the final whistle that he felt they were ready, even if it was a shame to have been missing so many players today. Then he smiled, thinking of Hoffenheim
The referee blew his whistle with the ball in the air from an Union corner, the set-piece being the last touch of the game. On Saturday, it will be seen if all Fischer's scheming, and all the players' work has all paid off.
For now however, the Unioner could revel in a final win to round off the longest winter break in the club’s - in almost any club’s – history. they could enjoy a successful dénouement.