Union were denied a first ever win at the Volkswagen Arena after Patrik Wimmer's deflected equaliser. But they were deserving of their point, won through Josip Juranovic's penalty, and are back to fourth place in the Bundesliga table
VfL Wolfsburg: Casteels – Fischer (82. Paredes), Bornauw, van de Ven, Paulo Otávio (82. Kaminski) – F. Nmecha, Guilavogui, Gerhardt (82. Baku) – Svanberg (82. Wimmer), Wind (64. L. Nmecha), Marmoush
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Juranović, Doekhi (63. Baumgartl), Knoche, Leite, Gießelmann (62. Roussillon) – Thorsby, Khedira (63. Seguin), Laïdouni (77. Haberer) – Becker (84. Behrens), Michel
Goals: 0:1 Juranović (72.), 1:1 Wimmer (84.)
Though spoiled for choice, Fischer knows about the past
Union had never before won at the Volkswagen Arena. They hadn’t even scored a goal there before, and the balance was miserable, looking at it was like reading the score for a binary waltz. 1-0, 2-0, 3-0.
But, while having scored six in their last two European fixtures, Union's biggest worry was that they were without a goal in two in the Bundesliga, so would be happy with a hard won point for themselves, and happy for Josip Juranovic, who capped his goals against Ajax and Saint-Gilles, with an unstoppable penalty here.
Urs Fischer had said in advance, that their goals-for column was okay, that Union had been creating the chances; they just had to believe in themselves, to keep on pushing. As he said afterwards that the point was more than deserved.
Before kick off Fischer was taken back to what he always calls the “Qual der Wahl”, finding himself spoiled for choice with the return of his left-backs Jerome Rousillon and Niko Giesselmann to Bundesliga business. He had restored Juranovic to the right in place of Christopher Trimmel, installed Giesselmann on the left, and decided on the dynamic duel whirling dervishes in midfield of Morten Thorsby and Aissa Laidouni.
Sven Michel, meanwhile, had been repaid for his last minute equaliser, the finishing moments of a wild and exciting night against Saint-Gilles on Thursday, with a place up front alongside Sheraldo Becker.
Wolfsburg with the better chances, but a goalless first half
Laidouni robbed Joshua Guilavogui immediately on the left as Union showed their intent from kick off. He tried a volley from the edge of the box a moment later, but sliced it, the ball flying to Juranovic, advancing down the inside right, as if he had meant to switch the ball all along. His consequent cross was just too high for Michel.
But Wolfsburg were already looking to crowd the midfield, to starve Union of the oxygen they need to break, just as Saint-Gilles had done, as Köln had done, and as Schalke had done before them. However, Becker broke on the right after only five minutes and hit a dangerous, bending cross that Michel could not get hold of to shoot. It was spicy, too. Rani Khedira got an early yellow card for a lunge on Felix Nmecha. Sebastiaan Bornauw was lucky not get another for a lunge on Michel.
Guilavogui then dispossessed Aissa Laidouni and marched through midfield, it took all Thorsby had to stop him in his tracks from behind. He got a yellow for his troubles as well.
The Wolfsburg free kick was 25 yards out, and Matthias Svanberg hit it with superb technique over the wall, it dipped wickedly, but crashed off a wrong-footed Freddie Rönnow’s bar and away to safety. He smacked another into the wall just after 20 minutes. It took Rönnow to dive at the feet of the luckless Omar Marmoush to stop him a moment later.
After 20 minutes, Wolfsburg were in the ascendancy.
Marmoush skipped past Knoche, and Svanberg went down in the box after a 50-50 with Giesselmann. Jonas Wind somehow pulled back a cross with his heel that worked its way to Paulo Otavio who skewed his shot well wide.
The game went back and forth. Laidouni skipped inside, exchanged a one-two with Thorsby and let off a shot with the minimum of backlift from the edge of the box that almost caught Casteels off guard. The keeper did well to get down to claim the shot.
But there were worrying signs for Union as Marmoush skipped past a lunging Doekhi, the Dutchman seeming to pull up in the challenge, clutching his calf. One of Union’s remarkable strengths this year had been in their fitness levels, in the relentless nature by which they have ridden every challenge, every knock, and always come back. Doekhi came back on, if a little gingerly. Giesselmann was off, too, with five minutes to go of the half. However, he too returned, a grimace on his face.
And Doekhi was, after all, fit enough for a typical driving run up through the middle with 35 minutes played. He often does that, there is something of the former English centre-half Sol Campbell about him at times, when he has the ball and he sights a gap opening up ahead of him to charge into.
But the biggest chance of the half came for the hosts as the dangerous Marmoush skipped around Knoche, having been set up after a misplaced Diogo Leite pass that looked worryingly reminiscent of Thursday evening. He had only Rönnow to beat - and looked certain to - but somehow hit his shot wide of the back post, having set himself, having all the time in the world to pick his spot. He would flash a shot just wide of the near post from a far tighter angle just afterwards.
Union could consider themselves lucky going into half-time goalless
Juranovic buries his penalty; Wimmer sees his shot deflected and in
Union tried to up the pace immediately from kick off; Leite won a corner, Giesselmann a free kick, Laidouni bustled into the box and was stopped only by the attentions of three Wolfsburg defenders, and Becker found Michel with a glorious, delicate flick of his heels.
Becker then watched a ball drop over his shoulder before hitting a right-footed volley just wide of the back post. He screwed his face in furstration. He punched the ball into the turf. Though he hasn't scored in 12 games now, he should give himself a break. Fischer starts him because he knows the goal will come. At the other end, Marmoush and Gerhardt watched agonisingly as neither could quite get on the end of a ball in the Union box as Thorsby bustled around them and Rönnow cleaned up.
Marmoush saw another header, this one diving, well saved by Rönnow on the hour, the keeper diving to his near post to palm the attempt wide of the post after he had just got in front of Leite. Rönnow was again magnificent, making three or four stops that kept Union in the game.
There were Union players flagging, and Fischer could see it. He took off Giesselmann, Doekhi and a Khedira who has run more than most in the league this year in like-for–like changes for Rousillon, Timo Baumgartl and Paul Seguin.
Maybe it was with an eye on Thursday, for the second leg in Europe, or next Sunday against Eintracht, or even when Union face Frankfurt again in the Cup. Maybe they were just done. The schedule shows no let up, no remorse for the victims of their own success.
After an hour and a bit, the ever-reliable Seguin did well to stop Wolfsburg breaking at pace down the middle almost immediately after coming on, as danger loomed and Laidouni hared back into position over 40 yards.
Union's goal came as Laidouni went down under the late challenge of Guilavogui in the box, he’d caught him on the ankle, his studs flashing, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Juranovic stood up and hit the penalty hard and straight. He gave Casteels no chance. Union were in the lead and you could hear their over two and a half thousand fans from all the way back in Berlin.
But it wasn't over. Rönnow still needed to save at the feet of a Marmoush who was wondering now what on Earth he needed to get on the score sheet. He was excellent, Rönnow, just as he has been all year. His stop from Jakub Kaminski just before the final whistle was the encapsulation of his his unfussy nature and utter reliability, he has a way of making his job look so easy at times.
Which is why he looked so hurt when Wolfsburg hit back, a huge slice of luck involved as Patrick Wimmer hit a shot from the edge of the box with the outside of his boot. It looked a little ungainly, but took a flick in the box, leaving Rönnow stunned, the ball rolling under his outstretched right hand.
He pounded the ground in frustration in the box almost as soon as the ball hit the back of the net. Robin Knoche said after the final whistle, he had no idea how it happened. Fischer said that there were too many defenders watching him shoot, but also that it had been unlucky.
These things can happen, he said. They were both right.
Thorsby had time to make a superb block from a Wimmer cross, as Wolfsburg were now playing the ball about with ease on the edge of the Union box. Juranovic stood up, Leite got in front of Marmoush. Kevin Behrens, on for Becker, came back and won the ball off Guilavogui and tried to spring Michel free on the break.
At the final whistle, the Union players looked stunned, but there was little of complaint, just a hint of sadness at the vicissitudes of these footballing emotions. Michel said that the result was probably fair, and he was right. Union were still in the top four, after all, and looking forward to a second leg in Brussels on Thursday.
It was their first ever point in Wolfsburg. Sometimes you just need to remember just how far you have come.