In 1994, a student from Kiel concocted a conspiracy theory that the city of Bielefeld doesn’t exist. The sheer bizarreness of the theory, combined with the confused ’Hmm, well now that you mention it, no’ that people almost always respond with when asked if they actually know anyone from Bielefeld gave fuel to the conspiracy as it spread like wildfire through the internet. The football team from Bielefeld, however, may point to consistent yo-yoing between the top two divisions and a bribery scandal in 1971 that ultimately saw the team relegated to an amateur league to confirm their existence.
So even though all evidence points to the probability that there is actually a city called Bielefeld, the EXBERLINER sportsdesk, in the course of Hertha’s clash with Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday afternoon, noticed a couple of things that certainly don’t exist. Firstly, decent coverage of the 2. Bundesliga on a Sunday afternoon, as Sky flicked whimsically between coverage of all three games taking place. Hertha had the misfortune of having sealed the three points by half time, and so only featured sporadically in the second half Konferenz, as Karlsruhe and Cottbus threw kitchen sinks at each other and Union prodded and poked at Paderborn with all the efficiency of a blind medical student taking a blood sample.
The second thing utterly conspicuous by its absence was Bielefeld’s baffling inability to stop conceding extremely dangerous situations to their table-topping opponents. Ronny was the first beneficiary of this generosity, barging his way through the comedic Bielefeld defence and sliding the ball home after 18 minutes. Hertha’s second goal just before half-time was another gift, as Sebastian Heidinger lost the ball in his own half, allowing Adrian Ramos to maraud forward. Raffael took possession at the edge of the box and rifled in an angled shot to join his brother on the score sheet.
Hertha were very much in the driving seat, due in no small part to the ariel dominance of central defensive duo Hubnik and Mijatovic, appearing together for only the third time since October. They were denied a clean sheet by ex-Herthaner Christian Müller’s excellent through-ball to Josip Tadic, a goal that could have sparked an unlikely Bielefeld comeback had Raffael not already extended the Berliner’s lead to three goals. Domovchiyski was clearly standing in a offside position when Rob Friend’s through ball came to him, but the Bulgarian showed excellent awareness to step over the ball and allow it to run through to a grateful Raffael for his fifth of the season.
The assist for the oft-criticised Friend came at just a the right time. Pierre-Michel Lasogga – who had been keeping him out of the starting line-up with his determined running and solid finishing over the last months – will be out of action for a couple of weeks with a knee injury sustained last week against Düsseldorf. After creating a number of decent chances for his team-mates, Friend can be reasonably confident of keeping his place for the Berlin derby next Saturday.
With Hertha’s main promotion rivals Duisburg, Fürth, Cottbus and Aue all failing to win, and other promotion hopefuls Bochum and Augsburg meeting tonight, Markus Babbel’s men sit five points clear of of their nearest rivals. There’s also a satisfying seven-point gap to the dangerous lottery that is third place, with its promise of a play-off with the Bundesliga’s 16th-placed team at the end of the season. Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg are all in the mix at the wrong end of the top division, so third place is one to be avoided in this year’s promotion battle.
For Hertha, all eyes are now on Berlin. Union are making the short trip across town for the Berlin derby on Saturday, having won only one solitary away game in the last year. We should be spared the volumes of turgid rhetoric that was produced for the first ever derby last Saturday – this is a clash between two teams desperate for points for very different reasons, albeit a clash that is going to have an atmosphere of the sort that the Olympiastadion has rarely ever seen before.