1.FC Union Berlin lost 1-0 away in Heidenheim, despite dominating large parts of the game and creating numerous chances, including Kevin Behrens hitting the post. But Jan-Niklas Beste’s superb second half free-kick made the difference, and again Union would have to travel home empty handed.
1. FC Heidenheim: Müller – Föhrenbach, Siersleben, Mainka, Traoré – Beste (90.+2 Schimmer), Theuerkauf (90. Keller), Maloney, Dinkci (90. Pick) – Kleindienst, Pieringer (81. Thomalla)
1. FC Union Berlin: Rönnow – Trimmel, Doekhi, Bonucci (74. Kaufmann), Leite (61. Jaeckel), Gosens (74. Roussillon) – Král, Tousart (78. Laïdouni) – Becker, Behrens, Fofana (74. Hollerbach
Goal: 1:0 Beste (59.)
Putting a smile on things
During his press conference on Thursday, Union’s head coach Urs Ficher had reacted to a question about the run of four losses in four that had seen Union’s superb start nullified somewhat, with a smile.
“I don’t see things as negatively,” he said before going on to say how impressive his side had been in the second half against Hoffenheim, how they had carved out chance after chance following a half-time team-talk where his voice rose in unusual anger.
Against Heidenheim on Saturday afternoon his side would be dogged by similar problems. At times they looked slick and technically superior to their hosts, but (almost) like the wolf in the old English fairytale, for all they huffed and puffed, they just coudn't blow the ball over the line.
After all, his goal has never changed. He said you can sometimes lose games like this, that it was all a part of the sport, and that the newer expansiveness he is trying to drill into a squad, flush with newcomers, just needs a bit of time to be come second nature. He hadn’t even been able to send the same starting XI out onto the pitch once yet, he lamented, though this was far from self-pitying. He saw it more as part of a natural progression, before alighting on a beautiful example of his sober, steely focus.
“You can’t influence what’s happened in the past,” he said. “Only what happens in the future.”
Now that run of four losses has become five, the tale of chances not taken a leitmotif.
"We played a good game over 90 minutes, and had enough chances," he said today, reacting to the loss.. "I count four or five from which we have to have scored. We have to do that better again and that's the only way we can get other results."
Christopher Trimmel put a smile on it after the final whistle, taking his coach’s lead, saying that if they continue to play as well then the results will follow. But it changes little for now, for this will still have hurt just as hard.
Fischer made a couple of changes from last week’s loss, but at the back it was, in the continued absence of Robin Knoche, business as usual (though this was the first time in over three years that Union’s rock had missed three Bundesliga game in a row). Frederik Rönnow was between the sticks, with Diogo Leite, Leonardo Bonucci and Danilho Doekhi ahead of him. They were flanked by Robin Gosens on the left and Christopher Trimmel, in for Josip Juranovic, on the left.
In midfield and up top he had reverted to the double pivot of Alex Kral – himself fit again having pulled out of the starting XI late last week – and a Lucas Tousart still coming to full match readiness having missed the large part of the start of the season following his knock in pre-season.
And up front he had reacted to his side’s lack of bite in front of goal by reverting to the front three last ran out against Leipzig. Instead of Kevin Volland however, serving the final game of his suspension following that very game, Sheraldo Becker would dovetail with Kevin Behrens and the returning David Datro Fofana.
Chances a-plenty, but neither side take advantage
Though Union started with an air of familiarity - with smoke from the Union end and a ball up the line from Trimmel to Becker - it was Union’s failure to take their chances that seemed to sum up the half. But in this they weren’t alone. Indeed, it was the hosts who had the first shot of the game, as Eren Dinkci burst through a gap in the middle after five minutes, but he could only shoot straight at Rönnow.
Union countered, Becker finding Behrens, whose shot went wide of the right-hand post, before Fofana also drove wide when Becker was possibly opening up another option behind him as he raced into the box from the wing.
But the game was open, and the hosts were as keen. It took the strength and timing of Doekhi to put a Marvin Pieringer cross out for a corner, as it took Rönnow to commandingly pluck the set-piece from the sky when it was delivered into the box. Then Jan-Niklas Beste caused trouble in the gap between Unions midfield and defence, Union needing Tousart to sweep up. He released Becker immediately, beating his man with one of those dangerous feints he makes at pace with the ball on his toe. But he too shot wide of the near post.
Tousart seemed to be enjoying himself, he drifted forwards after ten minutes, switching the ball between him and Fofana in the box at pace. Fofana then shot at Müller after Becker’s gorgeous little backheel to him in the box, but Union were leaving gaps for Heidenheim to exploit. Kleindienst blazed an inch wide from only six yards out following a well worked free kick. Beste flicked a short pass from Dinkci behind him shortly after, but Rönnow was alert to the danger.
Union were far improved on the first half last week, and Fofana, particularly, seemed to have heeded Fischer’s words, showing himself much keener to bring others into play, moving the ball between himself and Becker, then himself and Behrens; he and Gosens combined neatly on the left after almost 30 minutes, while at the other end Rönnow made another couple of towering claims from deep balls into the box.
Dinkci then roared down the right, finding Kleindienst, but the pass was just an inch behind him and Kral was back in time before he could bring it under control enough to shoot. Behrens hit an absolute dream of a ball, swinging half the length of the pitch from out right to Fofana, approaching the edge of the box.
Behrens himself was the recipient of Tousart’s good work, his shot tipped over the bar by Müller, as Becker’s cross somehow evaded any contact as it flew across the six-yard box; Kral jinked into the box following a mistake, pulling off a stepover before dragging his shot wide with his left.
But for all their chances, Fischer could only look on from his technical area, all in black, his arms folded, chewing his bottom lip. Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes chances simply not taken and sometimes because of excellent defending – as sometimes it’s also just a bit of all three - but whatever it was it played across the coach’s face. For Union still went into the tunnel at half time goalless.
Union can’t convert, Beste’s freekick makes the difference
Lennart Maloney, the former Unioner, drew a good save out of Rönnow at his near post straight after the re-start, before Leite drew a yellow for Pieringer after a superb pair of challenges. Maloney would be magnificent, but Union looked solid at the back – the worries caused by Bonucci’s block on Maloney in the box after 55 minutes aside - and it was at the other end where Union’s problems were summed up.
Behrens got on the end of a Becker ball from the right. His header was parried by Müller, but it came straight back at the striker, half on the floor, half on the move. He again got enough on it but this time the post got in the way, and the third rebound dribbled only at him. He held his head in his hands, wondering what he had to do to get the ball over the line.
Becker tried to lift one from outside the box after fifty minutes, sensing that maybe a feather would trump the hammer, but it floated over the bar. Gosens then slashed a shot wide when set up by Fofana. Union were tearing into their hosts, Becker and Fofana using their pace down the wings.
But then the worst would happen. Leite brought down Kleindienst, 25 yards out from goal after almost an hour, and Beste took it, hitting a stunning free kick in off the bar, giving Rönnow absolutely no chance. It was a brilliant strike, and once again Union had found themselves a goal down.
There was confusion at the other end, and Union thought maybe their luck had changed as the referee gave a penalty as the ball seemed to strike Kleindienst’s arm in the box following Behrens’ header, but having consulted the video he saw it had only struck his head. The Unioner rubbed theirs in response.
Fischer reacted with a quarter of an hour to go, taking off Bonucci, Gosens and Fofana, switching to a flat back four with Roussillon on the right (Paul Jaeckel had already come on for the yellow-carded Leite), and bringing on Mikkel Kaufmann and Benedict Hollerbach up front. But Heidenheim were now growing in confidence as the half ticked away. Kral picked up a yellow card for a foul on Norman Theuerkauf, and Maloney was seemingly everywhere at once, his tackling strong, his heading bullish, he was driven and utterly determined.
Becker kept hitting the byline from out on the left, he was Union’s greatest outlet, but all too often his crosses were either cleared away or blocked at the first. He was stopped by a superb Omar Traore challenge as he cut inside with five minutes to play.
Hollerbach was caught by Patrick Mainka, and Becker opted to shoot with the free kick, getting it over the wall but too close to Müller who’d spotted what was on the cards early. Kaufmann won another corner after Laidouni’s slipped pass, but again it all ended with a pile of bodies on the floor and the ball looping over the bar to safety.
It was the story of the game. Trimmel said that Union were just going through "a difficult phase," before saying that "last year it felt like everything went in, and now it's different".
There were times Union would end up trying everything, launching ball after ball towards the Heidenheim goal, into the smoke, with Trimmel, at least, remembering when Rafal Gikiewicz had scored against this same side six years ago, when both sides were in the 2. Liga, with almost the last kick of the game. But despite his smile, and his certainty that the better phases of Union's play still outweigh the run of five losses on the bounce, today...
Well, today... it just wasn’t to be.