The Alte Försterei is always a seething mass of raucous bodies. They sing for their team when they are winning, they sing for their team when they are losing. It is a grand old sight, and can make even the most ridiculously early kick off times – the ones that feel like they were scheduled by a Mormon spinster with a chip on her shoulder about people having fun – seem like they are taking place on the night of a giant party. Sure, a whole lot of the fans got up early to start the preparations for the first home of the season, but this one was supposed to be special.
Last year Union had made the breakthrough, and in the wake of last week’s draw in Kaiserslautern it seemed as if even the last dragon left to be slain, a chronic inability to compete with the sides in the six places ahead of them, had been run through like a goose through a wood chipper.
They were on their way, Braunschweig would be easy this time. I tipped a win, all of the journalists I spoke to tipped a win, hell, even Uwe Neuhaus seemed pretty confident going up against a side that hadn’t beaten Union in almost ten years.
None of us counted on the opposition being so obdurate. It is the classic mistake. Braunschweig were excellent at times: they are solid at the back and nippy down the flanks. They could easily have won by more than 1-0, but as Marc Pfitzner’s penalty (given for a handball in the box by Marc Pfertzel) deceived Daniel Haas and flew into the right hand side of the goal – it was directed straight at the sold out block of away fans behind – it still seemed inconceivable that the result would stand as it was. Surely Union always come back?
Braunschweig hit the bar once and the post twice. It saved the blushes of the brand new defence only to have conceded the one goal, but had the excellent Dominik Kumbela better luck, this result would have looked a whole lot worse. It is, however, worth reminding ourselves, again and again, that this Union defence is brand new. Roberto Puncec and Fabian Schönheim will iron out the creases in their performances, the communication with Daniel Haas will continue to improve. Patrick Kohlmann, however, is missed.
His replacement was Michael Parensen, who had performed so well against Kaiserslautern further up the flank, his position in turn being taken by the new arrival, the returning old boy, Björn Jopek. Jopek was actually pretty good. He flew into tackles, harried and hassled down the byline all the way through a first half that wasn’t exactly the prettiest game of football going. By the second half however, as the game got more stretched, he went quiet. It was times like these that one yearns for Chinedu Ede. It is second halves like these where one hopes that the Chilean newcomer, Felipe Gallegos, will come into his own.
It was Torsten Mattuschka who added the most dynamism to the side when he came on. He was like a boar, charging through the midfield, popping up on the flanks. He hit the bar with Union’s best chance, a fantastic right footed shot from twenty-five yards, curling towards the top corner. All the talk before the game had been about him and his nominal replacement, Tijani Belaid. ‘Tusche was stung by the suggestion he is getting too old, hurt by the presence (and excellent performance in the first game) of the new guy.
Belaid was too quiet at the top of midfield. There was too little connection to Markus Karl, mopping up at the back, and he was left without much support – he is not a Mattuschka-style player, and maybe Neuhaus will find a way to pair them together in the middle, Casablanca style (“this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”), or maybe just as Beauty and the Beast. As it was, it is the captain that still retains the fire in his belly, and the unquestioning devotion of the fans. At times he is like a force of nature.
But there is no point even trying to cohesively pull together, to pass and move and create when your strikers don’t take their chances. Silvio, Simon Terrodde, and for the last 30 minutes, Adam Nemec, all toiled away, but when chances go begging it is hard to find forgiveness because of a huge work rate. One of them needs to step up this year and score in double figures. Terrodde particularly will hate to look back at his horrible miss in the first half as Silvio slipped him through with a textbook, sliderule ball. He was through, and needed just two touches as the ‘keeper rushed out. It all ended with the ball getting tangled in his legs, and with Daniel Davari happily mopping up the mess made by the striker. As they used to say in the ‘60’s: it was an ugly scene, man.
It’s not all bad. This was only the second game, and it was always going to be difficult playing this season with expectations as (possibly unrealistically) high as they have risen to. In many ways it compares to 2010/11 when Union drew their first game away then lost the first at home. They lost the next one away too, but the season turned with the excellent, fighting draw against Hertha at home in the fourth game of the season – a moral, if not actual, victory.
The Old Dame will be back in Köpenick in a fortnight, in a mirror image of that year. There’s plenty of time to go yet.