As the beautiful Easter sun bore down on the Alte Försterei on Sunday it was hard to tell if what we had just witnessed was the beginning of something new or the end of something old. Ultimately, it probably didn’t matter much.
The game was soporific, and as flabby as a child gorged on Easter eggs. The heat slowed everything down inexorably, the opponents were just as culpable as Union, and will have travelled back to Ingolstadt easily, with an important point earned that should keep them up.
Ingolstadt started the better of the two sides, but a couple of great saves from the returning Jan Glinker left them ruing easier chances that had been missed as they dominated the first 20 minutes. Union were playing so deep it was almost subterranean, and the best openings came with Glinker’s long kicking which is so much better than that of the man he replaced, Marcel Höttecke. The main problem in the opening phase, as has been so often the case this season, was that the simple passes kept going missing.
Most culpable was Dominic Peitz, who announced in midweek that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. He can be a huge player for Union, but for one whose expressed intention is to play in the Bundesliga, he doesn’t half-play some shoddy passes at times. He is a fan favourite, because he embodies the Eisern spirit, all passion and power, but there is no subtlety to his game, no guile. It is all craft, and I have argued for some time (though I may as well have been banging my head against a brick wall for all the concurrence I received) that Union’s attacking deficiencies stem from the arse end of midfield.
All too often the momentum of a move is never allowed to build up because a pass goes astray. Torsten Mattuschka has to drop deeper looking for the ball, when it should be delivered to him on a platter, so he can use his attacking capabilities moving into the box. Peitz’s leaving shouldn’t be the catastrophe some of the fans think it might be, though his replacement as a cheerleader will have some mighty big shoes to fill.
So it was goodbyes to him and a start for another leaving hero, Karim Benyamina. As Christopher Quiring came more into the game in the second half his green-ness in front of goal showed. Quiring is being groomed for a permanent role on the right wing for next season, and has come on sufficiently for Uwe Neuhaus to consider allowing Paul Thomik, who has been excellent all season, to leave for pastures new. His lightning pace cancels out what he lacks physically (he makes Leo Messi look like the jolly green giant). A couple of bursts down the line in the second half showed what he can bring to Union’s forward play, once shooting just over, and then, haunted by the memory of that miss, squaring in the box when a shot would have been easier himself.
He was joined by his under-23 teammate Stephen Skrzybski up front at half time. (The name fans are yet to learn quite how to pronounce properly. “Stephen Shrrrrbbbsssshhiiii Fußball Gott” will take a bit of practicing on the terraces to get right.) He showed plenty of intent, and is happy playing as a direct striker while Benyamina is more likely to drop back or wider to try to get the ball. But it was from the head of an old head that was needed for the equaliser. For the third time Patrick Kohlmann had teed Benyamina up beautifully, crossing from the left flank. He headed firmly to the far post and into the corner. It was needed and cherished in equal measure. It was the goal of a striker who still knows intrinsically how to find the back of the net, and one who will be missed for exactly this sort of performance.
So Union are safe anyway for another year in the 2. Bundesliga. This was the important goal for the season. They are not a club who are thinking immediately of the big time, and a promotion to the top tier. They know their level and are sensibly building towards it. A breakthrough for a couple of kids and a new sechser will see them through nicely.