The people around me in the Ostkurve were getting annoyed. Many had predicted what we were seeing down below us on the carpet pitch of the Olympiastadion. Hertha were throwing the game away, just like it looked they had contrived to do for the last hour. The fans were singing that they wanted to see a bit of fight, a struggle shown. They were fed up with what could have easily turned into another poor result at home.
But fight is what Hertha showed in the end. A desperate final burst led to the electric jolt of what seemed five minutes before like an increasingly unlikely equaliser. It brought them a point and back to the relative comfort in the knowledge that at times, Hertha BSC had made Bayer Leverkusen, the team that had just beaten Chelsea in the Champions League, looks decidedly ordinary at times.
For the first 35 minutes they had made the big new thing, Andre Schürrle, look humdrum and the great old thing, Michael Ballack, look like a bitter and dirty old man, chopping and bruising his way through the game like a latter day Nobby Stiles – without the finesse.
In many ways the single point was far from disappointing for the Old Lady of Charlottenburg. It was only the manner in which Hertha had contrived to take their foot off the pedal after they had started so impressively. They came out of the blocks like men possessed. Pressing Bayer’s vaunted midfield back with every touch. Levan Kobiashvili and Nikita Rukyavystya overlapped on the left, tearing down the flank with consistent menace, forcing Schürrle onto his back foot, enabling the Werkself no momentum. Within minutes Hertha had a penalty, a Kobiashvilli cross handled by the hapless Daniel Schwaab on the edge of the box.
That the penalty was a stinker didn’t matter. It was weak, and Bernd Leno dived easily to palm it out, back to Kobiashvilli whose second swipe at the ball was bundled out again by the keeper. Within a quarter of an hour Peter Niemeyer had dissected the flat-footed Leverkusen defence with a through ball to Raffael that was timed with Swiss perfection. The Brazilian cut the ball back across the box to where young Pierre Michel Lasogga was storming in. It was simple, pretty and devastatingly effective.
Minutes later it was 2-0, this time coming from the right hand side, Patrick Ebert – a man whose hair cuts would be turned down by Boris Karloff for being too drastic – hit a free kick curling deliciously in to the back post where Roman Hubnik was leaping with Ömer Toprak. Hubnik didn’t get a touch, Toprak did, but the ball sailed into the top corner nonetheless. The Hertha faithful were ecstatic, ebullient, but still wary. They had good reason to be. With their first sashay forward it was 2-1, Eren Derisory beating Thomas Kraft easily as he latched onto a simple through-ball.
This was where the fans were getting worried. They had seen this all too often, and as half time approached they seemed to be retreating back into their shells. Derdiyok was left alone as Thomas Kraft palmed out Schürrle’s volley to. All he had to do was stroke it home.
Derdiyok’s third made it seem as if the first half an hour had never happened. The tables were well and truly turned on Hertha, when they should have been playing with a bit of patience, a little bit of guile. All too often a simple mistake was made that would force them onto the back foot. A classic example being Roman Hubnik challenging fantastically on the edge of his own box. It was a classic sliding tackle, perfectly executed, but when he had all the options available to him he opted for a cheeky, clever little ball out to the wing. Needless to say it didn’t work. They were undoing all of that hard running – all of the doggedness and breath-taking, lung-busting running had been for nothing.
Adrian Ramos made the difference in the end. The Columbian is more than a talisman for Hertha. He is a man who can make things happen, and as he freed up some space on the right, a cross somehow found its way to Lasogga at the far post for the 3-3.
It was now breathless, relentless stuff. Mijatovich almost decapitated Stefan Kießling on the edge of the box as the whistles and catcalls grew in the crowd. It came to nothing, eventually, but Kraft still had to make a world class, reflex save from Kießling in the dying moments to secure the point.
Hertha will be happy with the point, but still, somehow, disappointed, that they let a game that they were so comprehensively bossing slip through their fingers.