1. FC Union Berlin: Frederik Rönnow – Niko Giesselmann, Danilho Doekhi, Robin Knoche, Paul Jaeckel, Julian Ryerson – Andras Schäfer (Morton Thorsby), Rani Khedira (Paul Seguin), Genki Haraguchi (Milos Pantovic) – Jordan Siebatcheu (Kevin Behrens), Sheraldo Becker (Jamie Leweling)
VfB Stuttgart: Florian Müller – Hiroki Ito (Pascal Stenzel), Axel Zagadou (Borna Sosa), Waldemar Anton, Konstantinos Mavropanos –Atakan Karazor (Luca Pfeiffer) - Tiago Tomas, Naouirou Ahamada, Wataru Endo, Silas Katompa Mvumpa (Chris Führich)- Serhou Girassy
Goals: 1-0, Paul Jaeckel (78‘)
Red card: Serhou Guirassy (83’)
1.FC Union won a hard-fought game, at the end of the longest week, against VfB Stuttgart on Sunday evening through Paul Jaeckel’s header. And the most remarkable thing is that it’s probably not that remarkable. Urs Fischer’s side are now two points clear of Freiburg at the top of the Bundesliga.
There are chances at both ends, but it remains a tight, goalless first half
It had been a long week for the players, the coaches, and not to mention the bus drivers of 1. FC Union Berlin. From Frankfurt to Malmö to Stuttgart in the space of seven days. From a bruising loss in Frankfurt, where Union were largely outplayed in their first loss of the season, to a remarkable victory on a difficult night in Sweden, where their astonishing first victory in the Europa League was overshadowed by events off the pitch.
They’d also had to play the second half of that game without Andras Schäfer, following his straight red card. That second half had sapped so much energy, they all had run so hard and so far, that changes were expected coming into this tie. Accordingly Paul Schäfer returned to the starting eleven, joined by Genki Haraguchi and Niko Giesselmann.
That Sheraldo Becker and Jordan Siebatcheu started together up front, though, was a foregone conclusion. When fit, the pair have proved irreplaceable. Jordan’s robustness and his movement off the ball essential for providing the space that Becker has used to such devastating effect.
They dovetail superbly, as they drift like the Kalahari sands.
Anchoring them all, holding the universe together, was Rani Khedira as always, a man who has grown into one of the best holding midfielders in the land.
A win today would give them breathing room at the top, too following Freiburg’s draw in Berlin against Hertha BSC. They were confident, opponents Stuttgart were yet to win this season, they had flattered to deceive, they had been blunt and largely free of imagination. And Union showed their intent early, snapping into challenges, pressing hard. Immediately a mistake was forced when Axel Zagadou was robbed by Jordan. Haraguchi then won a corner. It ended up being looped back into the box by Julain Ryerson, now out on the left, punched uncertainly by Stuttgart’s keeper, Florian Müller, and shot back over his head, and over the bar, by Robin Knoche.,
As they showed it when Doekhi too took two attempts to get the ball off Hiroki Ito. When Jaeckel crossed the width of the pitch to stop Silas Katomba Mvumpa.
Frederik Rönnow was forced into making a superb, last minute stop, changing direction off his toes, pouncing to his left as the ball threatened to fly in suddenly off a combination of both Serhou Tiago Tomas and Doekhi’s heads. He made another to his right stopping a free kick from Wataru Endo. The shot itself wasn’t too far out of his reach, but it skidded off the turf and moved through the air. The Danish stopper had to be alert to it all the way.
Jordan then did superbly to wrongfoot Konstantinois Mavropanos at the other end having been played in by Julian Ryerson. He hit it short to Becker who, in turn, laid it off first time, still short, completing the prettiest of triangles, to Andras Schäfer. But Schäfer hadn’t read the speed of the move, and he never had a chance to catch up.
Becker raged, he is expressive when at his angry best. Union had carved out a chance of brilliant simplicity.
But just as against Frankfurt, Union were allowing a couple of simple mistakes to appear in their usually solid backline. After half an hour Niko Gieselmann lost the ball carelessly to Tiago Tomas from the left back position. The… squared, but his cross was behind Guirassy. It could have been so much worse. Fischer turned away in anger, he clapped his hands together, he cursed. Five minutes later Tiago Tomas then hit a wicked cross that was flicked just wide off the head of Guirassy. He had shaken off the attentions of Knoche, he should have done better.
Poor Schäfer was then floored after a nasty clash of heads with Waldemar Anton as both leaped for a ball, but he came off somehow better, despite being half the size of the centre back who had to have his head bandaged after. Anton laughed with his trainer as he prepared to re-enter the pitch. It’s bread and butter for defenders. Schäfer though wasn’t out of the action, straight away he caught Silas from behind. Union have conceded the most fouls in the league this season, this was one to put on the pile.
There were plenty here on show from both sides.
Guirassy was a constant threat, but Union were grateful for Stuttgart’s profligacy, their lack of a cutting edge.
Though Stuttgart had been the better side in the first half, nion finished the half strongest. With the break coming Paul Jaeckel’s well directed header was well saved by Müller, pushed wide for a corner that ultimately dropped for Niko Giesselmann to hit with a bicycle kick that wasn’t far off, either.
Chances abound, but only one is taken. And that by Union.
The first big chance of the second half fell to Endo whose header, as he hared into the six yard box, went straight into the hands of a thankful Rönnow. Then, at the other end, Jordan again robbed Zagadou but couldn’t capitalise as he stumbled forwards, gravity robbing him of an opportunity of the kind his selfless work has seen him denied recently. Immediately Stuttgart countered, Silas finding himself in space. The game was opening up all of a sudden.
It was now a question of who would be the one to take their next big chance when it came. Silas saw another shot deflected over. Mavropanos shanked one over on the volley from a corner. Becker, as cool as anyone on earth, brought down a high ball with his studs, and a shrug of the shoulder when the last man back and under pressure from three Stuttgarter.
It was one of his last acts, he was replaced by Jamie Leweling with 20 minutes to go. He had played Malmö at times as if on his own, so could be forgiven a break. Not that he liked it. He never does.
Union were stronger going into the last quarter of an hour, they’d been building up the pressure, and finally, at last it paid off when Paul Jaeckel scored his first goal of the season - his first since one for Greuther Fürth in a 5-1 win three years ago against Karlsruhe in the 2. Liga. He had ghosted into the box behind Karazor, and rose to head Giesselmann’s corner from near the penalty spot. It went across the goal and inside the far post. The smile on his face as he was mobbed by his team-mates told the full story. He knew how important this could prove to be.
Union were ahead, but there would be a huge scare straight after as an almost comic goalmouth scramble, with the ball pinging around the box, off backsides and shins and the palms of Rönnow, saw Guirassy’s sidefooted shot hit the post. He would be sent off shortly after for his second yellow card. The Frenchman had had the most frustrating of days. Tomas would also shoot wide from a tight angle soon after.
The game still pulsated, back and forth, up and down. Müller saved from Paul Seguin at close quarters. Ryerson lunged at the feet of Borna Sosa. Leweling drew a final stop from Müller who had been superb all day. But Union are made of strong stuff, their nerves are unimpeachable. Even the sight of the keeper appearing in their box at the end for a corner caused not a flutter, barely a twitch.
And after four minutes added time that was that. It wasn’t all pretty, and it took a lot of hard work, but it didn’t have to be after the week they’ve had. Fischer said as much after the final whistle. He said they'd used their bit of luck, but they'd also earned it. He was happy, he said.
Union had won, and with it – read it, look it up, refresh your browser again and again, ask your neighbours and your parents and make sure to go and tell your friends – it is October, and they are two points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.