Union suffered another loss, at home to Borussia Dortmund, on Saturday afternoon, despite having lead at the end of a chaotic first half that was as wild with intensity as it was intrigue, with two goals being ruled out by the video assistant, and Union being given a penalty by him to boot. The goals from Robin Gosens and Leonardo Bonucci were in the end not enough, with efforts from Niclas Füllkrug, Julian Brandt, and the two former Union players, Nico Schlotterbeck and Julian Ryerson proving enough for victory.
Borussia Dortmund: Kobel – Ryerson, Schlotterbeck, Hummels (73. Süle), Wolf – Nmecha, Can – Bynoe-Gittens (46. Brandt), Reus (82. Özcan), Malen (64. Reyna) – Füllkrug (82. Haller)
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel (68. Roussillon), Doekhi, Bonucci, Leite, Gosens – Laïdouni (55. Aaronson), Král (22. Tousart), Haberer – Becker (68. Volland), Behrens (68. Fofana)
Goals: 1:0 Füllkrug (7.), 1:1 Gosens (9.), 2:1 Bonucci (FE, 31.), 2:2 Schlotterbeck (49.), 3:2 Brandt (54.), 4:2 Ryerson (71.)
Stung by the run of six losses on the bounce, Urs Fischer had pondered after the devastating result against Braga, “How many blows can you take?”
He would be forgiven for asking himself a similar question again following another loss, again having been 2-1 up at half time, against an irrepressible Borussia Dortmund side.
This time he could only say how proud he'd been of his players for coming back having conceded an early goal. "But unfortunately, we could not confirm the performance in the second half... Some of the defending was naïve and you have to do better if you want to achieve something in the Bundesliga."
He will now go into the international break wondering what he has to do for his luck to change.
His back three had performed as well as ever in the vast Olympiastadion, and they were retained again in the equally, though differently vast Westfalenstadion. So, Diogo Leite, Leonardo Bonucci and Danilho Doekhi remained ahead of Frederik Rönnow in goal. Josip Juranovic had taken a knock during the week, so he was replaced by the skipper, Christopher Trimmel on the right, ready to go toe to toe with Julian Ryerson, a player he knows as well as any opponent. Though Fischer likes to rotate the pair; he may have gone with the skipper anyway. Robin Gosens, called up for Germn duty again for next week’s trip to the USA, remained on the left.
In midfield he continued with Alex Kral as the single holding midfielder, alongside the rested Aissa Laidouni and a Janik Haberer who had scored twice against their hosts last season.
Up front were Becker, brimming with confidence, and Kevin Behrens, celebrating his own call-up to the German national team, completing a wonderful rise from the fourth division to the highest peaks.
A wild first half, Dortmund take the lead, Union come back. Both sides have goals disallowed, and Union grab a second
It was a breathless start, but then it was a breathless half. Becker looked keen, gobbling up a stray pas from Hummels in the second minute. But at the other end Jamie Bynoe-Gittens beat Trimmel on Dortmund’s left. Doekhi was there though, dependable as ever, strong as an ox. He shrugged the young winger off the ball with ease. Then Behrens was brought down as he tried to flick the ball past Ryerson. Dortmund looked a little ill at ease at the back, and Gosens thrashed a volley over following an uncertain punch by Gregor Kobel.
Behrens then showed his own confidence by striking a wonderful shot off the top of the back post, even though he was an inch offside as he received the ball.
Trimmel made up for his earlier erring by chasing back to kick the ball out for a corner, but it was from the set-piece that Dortmund took the lead after only seven minutes. Rönnow stopped a point-blank effort superbly, but it dropped only as far as Niclas Füllkrug who finished through the crowd to make it 1-0 for the hosts.
Union weren’t to let their heads drop though, within two minutes they had equalised, also from a corner. Trimmel whipped it in from the left, Gosens rose decisively before the ball flicked off the head of Füllkrug - amidst the chaos - flying past a helpless Kobel at the back post.
Then came the video assistant’s time in the spotlight. Union thought they had made it two before twenty minutes were up, following another set-piece from Trimmel, this time hit swinging into the box from the right where both Behrens and Kral were suddenly haring into the open space in the box. Kral won the race and headed brilliantly past Kobel.
It was the Czech international’s last touch of the game. He trudged off almost immediately after having pulled up immediately, to be replaced by Luca Tousart.
At least he was sure he’d made a decisive last effort... Or at least he thought he had, but it wasn’t to be. After an interminable wait the decision went upstairs and was called off for offside.
If his misery was doubled, Union thought theirs was too after Füllkrug thought he’d made it 2-1 for the hosts, having nodded in at the near post from a free kick out on the right. But again, it was sent upstairs. And again, wasn’t to be.
Union went straight up the other end, this time Becker went down in the box under Mats Hummels’ challenge. Becker stayed down, and play went on as before. But this was to be a busy day for the men upstairs as they checked, again and again, and the referee changed his onfield decision, pointing to the spot. In the absence of Robin Knoche, it was Bonucci who took the ball without flinching, staring down the endless faces of the entire yellow wall. He placed it on the spot, took a couple of steps to his left, and two more back, and finished as coolly as Knoche ever would to make it 2-1 for Union.
It was a wild first 45. Gosens made a perfect sliding tackle on Malen in the box, and another after Donyell Malen tried to thread a pass through in Dortmund’s half, before Behrens took a Trimmel ball down beautifully, turning and setting it away into Becker’s path. He outstripped Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck, but was driven a little too wide, though still forcing a save from Kobel. Behrens then robbed Schlotterbeck, he was playing with his head up and his shoulders back.
With six minutes remaining of the half Dortmund threw all they had at Union. Leite stopped Malen; Bonucci headed clear ahead of Reus; Tousart chased down Reus; Gosens clattered into the excellent Marius Wolf.
And Union held on.
Two former Unioners score, Union can’t get back.
But if it had been hard enough to see the great strikes from Jan-Niklas Beste for Heidenheim, and Bruma for Braga, Schlotterbeck, the former Union loanee, would equal them before even five minutes had been played, crashing the ball past Rönnow and in off the underside of the bar with his left foot, 25 yards out from goal. It was the finish of a lifetime, and Fischer must have been wondering what he had done to make them all start flying in.
It knocked the stuffing out of his side, or as Behrens would say later, Union were "thrown off course."
It would be another player though who would hammer another nail into the guest’s hopes. Edin Terzic had brought Julian Brandt on at half time, and immediately he would make a difference. First, he drew a stop from Rönnow with a sharp shot from outside the box.
Becker countered, winning a corner at the other end, but Dortmund would break, suddenly finding themselves four against three, and Brandt overlapping on the right. Reus found him and Dortmund’s top assister this season turned goal-scorer, finishing emphatically without breaking stride.
Dortmund were all over Union now, Brandt dominant in midfield, Wolf up and down the right. Rönnow punched clear after almost an hour when surrounded by players and unable to spring, as it took Gosens chasing back to rob Salih Özcan. Haberer robbed the indefatigable Reus in the middle. Rönnow then had to be quick to clear after Leite’s slightly undercooked back-pass.
Trimmel sprung Becker away with a superb ball, he crossed, but Aaronson volleyed wide. The American had come on for Laidouni, and was soon joined by David Datro Fofana and Jerome Rousillon, replacing Becker and Trimmel respectively.
But their efforts would be for nothing. Dortmund would soon make it four, after another former Unioner, Julain Ryerson, suddenly found himself in space on the left following Gio Reyna’s cut back ball that had been cleared by Rönnow. He drove and the Dane still seemed to have the shot covered, but it flicked off the lingering leg of a stretching Gosens.
Union were now clinging on every time Dortmund attacked. Leite was back in time to stop Özcan as he twisted and turned, looking to get a shot away. Gio Reyna, Füllkrug and Ryerson flicked the ball between themselves artfully at pace inside the box.
Fofana was all attacking flair, he drove past three, the ball stuck to his toe, but his final ball lacked precision, his eyes only on the goal, when he could have crossed earler. He drew a fine stop from Kobel, however, with ten minutes to play, shooting hard at the near post. Kevin Volland joined him up top, on for Behrens, shooting over following a mistake at the back from Dortmund.
Fischer paced his touchline, his arms folded, as the assistant referee indicated there were five minutes to play, as his players strived with all they had to claw themselves back into things. Fofana clipped into the box following Gosens’ interception; Haberer drove over from distance; Doekhi was in their box one minute, back in his own the next.
But as the sun sunk slowly over this huge stadium and the final whistle went on another loss, the players immediately went over to the over 4,000 of their magnificent fans, their fists clenched defiantly as one. They’d never given up as nor had the players. But, as Behrens said, Union are "in a bad run."
"It's a difficult situation at the moment," he said.
Nonetheless, they filled the Westfalenstadion with their voices. Eisern Union, they roared.