Marvin Friedrich’s towering header hands 1. FC Union Berlin the advantage against VfB Stuttgart in the Relegation playoff after a 2-2 draw at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Christian Gentner put the Bundesliga side ahead on 41 minutes after an even half of football. Suleiman Abdullahi equalised, 16 seconds after the restart of play. The Nigerian cushioned a long-ball to the deck and slid the ball past Ron-Robert Zieler.
Mario Gomez, left out from the start, needed just five minutes to get on the scoresheet after the interval, the German international finishing with the aid of a deflection.
But on 67 minutes, Fischer's side fought back for the second time, with Friedrich powering home from Christopher Trimmel's corner kick.
VfB Stuttgart: Zieler; Insua, Kempf, Kabak, Pavard; Gentner, Castro; Didavi (Gomez 45), Akolo (Zuber 72), Gonzalez (Esswein 82); Donis
1. FC Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Friedrich, Parensen, Reichel; Prömel, Schmiedebach (Kroos 84), Zulj; Abdullahi (Gogia 80), Andersson, Hartel (Mees 60)
Four days ago, 1. FC Union Berlin missed out on automatic promotion after a 2-2 draw in Bochum. A third-place finish in the 2.Bundesliga secured tonight's relegation play-off against Stuttgart who finished in 16th. Urs Fischer returned to his 4-3-3 shape for the trip to the Swabians, a formation which has been favoured throughout the campaign. Abdullahi replaced Sebastian Polter from the start and Marcel Hartel was restored to the team in place of Felix Kroos. In central defence, Michael Parensen stepped in to replace the suspended Florian Hübner. Stuttgart’s front-three threatened particularly on the counter in the opening stages, but the attacks from both sides were generally harmless. Ron-Robert Zieler pulled off two excellent saves to keep out Sebastian Andersson midway through the first period, while Rafal Gikiewicz was on his toes at the other end to deny Anastasios Donis. But the Greek striker, who was preferred to Mario Gomez from the start, accelerated clear of the Union defence, drilling the ball back for Gentner to finish on 41 minutes. The response from the Köpenick club could not have been better. Roared on by 4,000 away supporters, a direct ball into Abdullahi gave the Nigerian something to play off in the middle of the box. His control and timing was inch-perfect as he rolled the equaliser past the experienced Zieler.
Stuttgart's interm coach Nico Willig turned to his main talisman on the bench at half-time. Gomez was on the field for five minutes before he put the Reds in front with a deflected finish. The home side will perhaps have felt a little frustrated not to take advantage of the dominance which followed the second goal. Union, though, once again showed incredible character to equalise on 67 minutes. Trimmel's outswinging corner kick was powerfully headed into the bottom corner by Friedrich who claimed his first goal for the club. The introduction of Akaki Gogia and the continued presence of Andersson in attack pushed Union forward for a third goal. The home support added more pressure to Stuttgart's woes as Zieler was kept busy in the final 10 minutes. Andersson's ambitous 30-yard volley was tipped over the bar as the ball headed goalwards. In the end, the Köpenick club controlled the final proceedings and take an important advantage into the return leg at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei on Monday.
"I thought that was a great performance from my team. If I remember on Sunday, we were down, but on Monday we already had the VfB task in mind, so we were able to set the focus early. The team pulled along great. I think that was of decisive importance for today's game. You have seen that the team is brave, does not hide, and also in pressure situations looks for combinations to play out," said Union coach Fischer.