“There are no goodbyes; wherever you are, you will always be in my heart,” said Ghandi, but perhaps only in the 1982 film of the same name. Those words may have crossed Patrick Ebert’s mind on Friday evening as he said farewell to the Ostkurve after a remarkable fourteen years in the blau-weiss of the Alte Dame, but over the last couple of years, Anne Robinson’s way of saying farewell seemed more appropriate as Ebert made far more headlines for boozing, injuries and terrible haircuts than footballing nous.
Ebert’s tale will work as a caution to the four players in Hertha’s starting eleven against Paderborn that rose through the youth teams: Burchert, Brooks, Schulz and Knoll. While new trainer Jos Luhukay has been ruthless in axing of players he considered surplus to requirements (Mijatovic, Lell and Ottl joining Ebert on the list of free agents that everyone knows Sam Allardyce is having a look at), he appears more than willing to give a chance to Hertha’s up and coming players, even if his hand was forced somewhat by injuries and suspensions.
Against Paderborn, his kids started enthusiastically. Marvin Knoll on the left side of attack stung Paderborn keeper Lukas Kruse’s fingers with an early volley, and new signing Sami Allagaui’s movement was dragging the visitor’s defence out of position. Combined with Peer Kluge’s, um, clever passing and awareness, a Hertha goal seem inevitable. But this is Hertha, and everyone knows what is going to happen in a game when they start brightly and are expected to win: the opposition will score with their first and only chance of the half. Deniz Yilmaz did the business, slotting home a Jens Wemmer cross after Nico Schulz pulled out of a tackle that appeared eminently winnable. Yilmaz was one of three Paderborners queuing up to slot home, with only right back Marcel Ndjeng anywhere nearby.
After the break, Paderborn looked the most likely to score again, and Sascha Burchert had to react quickly to smother a one-on-one with Daniel Brückner. It was clear that something had to change for Hertha to get anything from the game, and with credit to Luhukay, he was brave in making all three of his changes within twenty minutes of half-time. Off went Beichler, Kluge and Niemeyer, on came Ramos, Ronny and Wagner.
Ah, Adrian Ramos. One can’t help but feel for him. Like the fat spotty kid in the playground, no one wanted to pick him for their team all summer long, and so he’s stuck with Hertha. Last season, he seemed to not care one iota whether Hertha stayed up or went down, perhaps confident of a transfer either way. Yet here he is in the 2.Bundesliga once more, but on Friday at least, he did seem to be trying hard, tracking back and attempting to make some challenges. Only problem was that he appeared about as coordinated as a drunk baby giraffe on rollerskates, succeeding only in giving away free-kicks and mis-controlling simple balls. But it was one of these miscontrols that found its way to Ronny at the edge of the box, who neatly sidestepped Diego Demme before lashing the ball onto the bottom corner.
The Brazilian was excellent in his thirty-minute cameo, and, with his incisive pinging of through balls from midfield, looked a lot like his departed brother Raffael. Compare this to the frequently overweight player who never really seemed to know what his best position was of the previous seasons, and Ronny could flourish as the sole member of the de Araújo family in Berlin.
The momentum had swung, and Hertha suddenly seemed to more likely to nick the victory. There were only 23,404 in the Olympiastadion thanks to a limit imposed by the DFB after the dramatic scenes in Düsseldorf last May, but they still managed to make plenty of noise – especially after a shocking decision by referee Deniz Aytekin in awarding Paderborn a penalty after Roman Hubnik made the minutest of contact with Thomas Bertels. The midfielder’s decision to fling himself to the ground was a brave one, considering he had already been booked. Alban Meha converted, and with only four minutes to play, it seemed as though Hertha fans would have plenty of reasons to continue their pained bellows of ‘Fussballmafia DFB’ well into the night.
No-one really holds their breath any more when Ronny steps up to take a free-kick. Yes, he scored a wonderful one once, but since then has been smacking them reliably into Row Z, or into some poor, whimpering defender. But this time, even though the free-kick was poor and Kruse really should have held it, it rebounded out to Sami Allagaui, who gratefully smashed it into the roof of the net. Hertha had grabbed an equaliser that was deserved for the how effectively their substitutions changed the game. Paderborn, let’s not forget, are no mugs: they have finished fifth in two of the last three seasons, and on the back of Friday’s performance, wouldn’t be a bad outside shot to be in the reckoning again at the end of this season.