1. FC Union Berlin: Frederik Rönnow – Niko Giesselmann (Julian Ryerson), Diogo Leite, Robin Knoche, Paul Jaeckel, Christopher Trimmel (Tim Skarke) – Janik Haberer (Milos Pantovic), Rani Khedira, Andras Schäfer – Jordan Siebatcheu (Jamie Leweling), Sheraldo Becker (Kevin Behrens)
VfL Bochum: Manuel Riemann – Danilo Soares, Ivan Ordets, Erhan Masovic, Christian Gamboa (Tim Oermann)– Anthony Losilla – Christopher Antwi-Adjei (ÜPatrick Osterhager), Kevin Stoger, Philipp Forster (Konstantinos Stafylidis), Jordi Osei-Tutu (Silvere Ganvoula) – Philipp Hofmann (Gerritt Holtman)
Goals: 1-0 Hofmann (44‘), 2-0 Holtmann (71), 2-1 Pantovic (93)
Union labouring, Bochum take a late lead
“There are no easy games,” said Urs Fischer before the trip to the Ruhrpott, before Union went to defend their place on top of the table against the side currently sitting at the opposite pole, the side with both the worst records at the back and up front.
He’d been keen to deflect the attention drawn to his side as they tear up the history books, he wanted to draw the pressure, to let them focus only on the game at hand. His favourite mantra, alongside the talk of compactness and playing to their limit, is that “every game starts at nil.”
And the look on his face as his side left the pitch at half time, a goal down, and then at full time, told a thousand stories, the main one of which being the one about how he’d meant all of that stuff. This was never going to be a walk in the park.
He had made wholesale changes to the side that began in the win against Heidenheim on Wednesday. Out were Lennart Grill, Danilho Doekhi, Julian Ryerson, Tymoteusz Puchacz, Paul Seguin and Sven Michel; in came Paul Jaeckel, Nico Gieselmann, Rani Khedira, Christopher Trimmel and Jordan Siebatcheu.
Bochum started the first half smartly, winning a corner after Christopher Antwi-Adjei linked up neatly with Jordi Osei-Tutu on the right. Frederik Rönnow was forced into punching clear twice in the opening minutes. Antwi-Adjei was a constant danger, and lightning quick. Then Philipp Forster was set free towards the left hand side of the box, a gap opening up for him to run into. Trimmel had to be aware and time his slide perfectly. Leite had to be equally watchful just after on the other side. Philipp Hofmann guided a header straight at Rönnow from a free kick out on the right, when, as Bochum’s top scorer this year, he should have done better.
It wasn’t just Fischer, of course. Bochum’s coach Thomas Letsch had said much the same before the kick off. He’d said that Bochum would need to be ugly, and in places they were. It was a battle in places, there was hard running and littered with hard tackles, it was intense. Rani Khedira was clattered by Anthony Losilla in the middle of the pitch. Jaeckel was booked for a late challenge on Osei-Tutu.
And not long after Ivan Ordets could consider himself very lucky to get only a yellow for a brutal, studs up lunge at the ankle of Janik Haberer just after quarter of an hour. Haberer had to limp off, a bitter grimace on his face, Ordets’ apologies notwithstanding.
Fischer was still angry about it after the final whistle, he was raging about the lack of protection offered to his player.
Haberer was ultimately replaced by Milos Pantovic, a man who knows the Ruhrstadion well from his time there as a player, but who would barely get a chance to get used to its comforts again on his return. His would be an afternoon of mixed emotions.
Union’s better opportunities were coming down the right hand side where both Trimmel and the Becker had hit dangerous crosses into the box from with half an hour gone. But neither found a man there to finish, with Jordan just inches away from Becker’s. Manuel Riemann then saved smartly from Jordan’s slightly mis-hit shot, down to his left, from a corner. Union were pushing up as the half wore on. But they weren’t themselves, they were uncharacteristically laboured.
After a mistake from Robin Knoche, the excellent Jordi Osei Tutu had a driven shot superbly tipped over by a flying Rönnow.
The consequent corner was hit into the six yard box where Hofmann finally got his header on target, flicking it past Rönnow in the 44th minute. They held their deserved 1-0 lead going down the tunnel for half-time. And Fischer grimly shook his head. He’d warned us all, all along
Bochum score again, Pantovic’s goal can’t make up for his missed penalty
Bochum’s hard pressing was shown early on in the second half as Rönnow was forced to punt the ball out for a throw under sudden pressure from Osei-Tutu - Union had been pushed back in possession from the Bochum half – and as Forster chased back to rob Becker.
Union started to find their way into the game, they had a bit of sustained possession, crowned by Becker’s backheel that, had it reached Jordan, would have been a gem. But it gave them only a bit more of a spring in their step, for they’d been bossed about all over the pitch. Pantovic flashed a right-footed shot not too far wide after an hour.
But Osei-Tutu hit the bar soon after when Rönnow had got all caught up after a corner. It was a let off for Union.
Fischer made three changes on the hour with Becker, Jordan and Giesselmann, none of whom had had their best of days, coming off for Kevin Behrens, Julian Ryerson and Jamie Leweling. He was trying to change the momentum, to force the pace. Ryerson was booked soon after having been slipped by Gerrit Holtmann, pulling back on his shirt as the Bochum sub passed him. “It was just the once,” he said to the referee, but he knew he had it coming.
That had been on Bochum’s right, but it was on the other side that they would cause the most damage just a moment later. Suddenly, as Union pushed men forward, Bochum sprung, Antwi-Adjei roaring into space. He had Holtmann all on his own coming in towards the back post, he found him easily with the side of his foot and the Bochumer finished with ease past a despairing Rönnow.
Union were almost handed a lifeline when after 77 minutes they were given a penalty after a VAR review after Behrens had gone down, leaping in a scrum in the box. But it had been called, not for that, but for a foul from Masovic on Diogo Leite. It was Pantovic, the man who’d come on for Haberer, who’d played for Bochum for years, who stepped up to take it. He hit it well, to Riemann’s left, but the keeper chose correctly, and saved. It was the 16th penalty Pantovic had ever taken in professional football. It was the first he’d ever missed.
His misery would have been slightly relieved when he hit a superb drive to make it 2-1 with a couple of minutes still to play, but only slightly. For his goal gave Union a gloss to the scoreline they probably didn’t really deserve. They’d been outfought, it just wasn’t their day.
And once again Fischer had been proved right. For there really are no easy games in football.