Monday, 13 August 2012

Union pay the penalty for slow start

After three months of blogging a variety of nonsense and European Championship stuff, the purpose of the blog can now fully be realised. I watched Union's opener, away at Kaiserslautern last Monday evening, on TV. A cagey first half was followed by 6 second half goals, some wonderful counter-attacking stuff from Union and plenty of dodgy defending from both sides. Union bagged the equaliser in injury time after squandering a two goal lead.

The atmosphere was as glorious as the Berlin weather as fans confidently strolled towards The Stadion an der Alten F├Âresterei. I spoke with a number of fans before the game and the consensus was that Union would win 2-0. My cagey 1-0 win prediction was roundly mocked.

It is days like this that make you appreciate everything about the pre-match rituals that take place. The 'grillers' are selling their sausages, a group of men stand around a keg of beer and the pfand collectors are doing brisk business with trolleys piled high with empty glass bottles.

Union fans empty a keg of beer pre-match

Fans approach through the forest - some on bikes - and the traveling supporters are kindly given directions to the away end by patient Union fans. The construction work on the new stand is reeking havoc for opposing fans as they struggle to negotiate their way around the circumfrance of the stadium.

The new season brings with it the same optimism. The same eagerness to once again climb the terraces and hear the roar of the Eisern. Unfortunately for Union, Eintracht Braunschweig brought with them a solid game plan and an equally impressive set of vocal supporters.

The game started slowly with Eintracht closing Union down well and limiting the hosts to a few half chances. Once again, club captain Mattuschka was left on the bench but the young Frenchman Belaid did not have the same impact on the game as he did in the 3-3 draw with Kaiserslautern.

Union were playing 4-4-2 but with more possession than last week the onus was on the Berlin midfielders to find a way through the strong Eintracht defence. The game was looking every bit the goalless draw that often mark the start of a home campaign. Neither side was offering much in terms of an attacking threat and it was always likely that the game would be settled by a moment of genius or a mistake.

Unfortunately for Union it was the later. The mistake was that the Union defender Pfertzel raised his arms, seemingly to protect his face, when the ball was blasted at him from close range. The referee immediately pointed to the spot. It was the type of decision that will always be disputed. "I've seen them given" was the general feeling on the terraces. The 'elf meter' was cooly stroked home by Pfitzer as he sent Haas the wrong way. The goal came five minutes before half-time and one sensed that Union would struggle to get back in to the game.

As the hour mark approached the inevitable substitution occurred as Mattuschka replaced the ineffectual Belaid. Nemec also replaced Silvio who had been starved of service. It was the mercurial Mattuschka who almost leveled for Union with a rasping drive that crashed off the crossbar.

However, it was Mattuschka's introduction that highlighted the home sides problem. Mattuschka is a great player. He has a deft touch, his range of passing is delightful and his ability to create space is second to none at Union. However, when he is on the field all players look towards Mattuschka. Close off the supply to Mattuschka and you starve Union of the oxygen they need to bring their game plan to life.

As Union chased the game they rode their luck. The away side twice were denied by the woodwork and Union fans exited the stadium thankful it was only a one-nil defeat. There is cause for optimism at Union. It was the first home game and the season is long. They'll need to create more chances, be more clinical and decide on their strongest starting eleven. The next home game sees the visit of Hertha where the 'ausverkauft' signs will be on display again. Let's hope we don't see another false start.