“It’s what we’ve wanted for a long time,” said 1.FC Union press officer Christian Arbeit after the home side’s game against FSV Frankfurt, “a dirty 1-0 win.” Uwe Neuhaus agreed: “a beautiful ugly 1-0,” he called it. It was Union’s first clean sheet in the league of the season, and after no wins in the first five games of the season, Union are now unbeaten in five, sitting comfortably in tenth with a series of winnable games to come in October and November.
After Marc Heitmeier’s second yellow card for a silly handball in the box and Thorsten Mattuschka’s subsequent penalty, covered unstoppably into the top right corner, the result never really looked in doubt. That wasn’t however, thanks to a tour de force performance from the home team – although possession was dominated to a degree not often seen at the Alte Försterei, it was control for the sake of control. All too often the ball was stroked around the defence and midfield for minutes on end – not a bad thing, of course, provided the team in possession remains patient and has a couple of mobile options in attack. Union, however, have Adam Nemec and Simon Terodde. Although both are willing to run and run for their team’s cause, it is reactive rather than proactive movement, and therefore stifles many attacks by forcing them to culminate in long balls. This could be forgiven if either were a merciless finisher, but on Saturday both Nemec and Terodde were guilty of allowing Frankfurt goalkeepr Patric Klandt to make saves in one-on-one situations. Terodde, in particular, looks bereft of confidence.
As Mattuschka pushed forward to offer some attacking variety and peg back 10-man Frankfurt, the Union midfield missed their captain’s forceful, instinctive creativity, and Christian Stuff and Roberto Puncec were left passing the ball back and forth to each other in defence, like nervous kids playing pass the parcel when the music is about to stop. When Björn Jopek, apparently one foul away from a dismissal, was withdrawn shortly before half time, Union’s midfield was deprived of its last crafty ball manipulator, and the game sank into set-piece chess and hopeful long-range punts, the best of which, from Stuff, set the Frankfurt bar a-quiver from all of thirty metres.
It was not until the introduction of Tijani Belaid that Union began to tick. The Tunisian, clearly desperate for the chance to prove himself, demanded the ball at every opportunity, and never once mislaid it in his all-too-short fourteen minute cameo. Suggestions that Belaid doesn’t fit it into the team while Mattuschka is in such good form appeared short-sighted as the pair linked up again and again: first Mattuschka spotted Belaid’s penetrating run and supplied him with a perfect pass, only for Klandt to once more prevail by emerging quickly from his goal. Then, deep into injury time, Belaid broke clear on the counter, held up the ball intelligently and measured a cunning pass into Mattuschka’s path, thundering forward in support. As he cut inside onto his left foot, Belaid’s arms, like those of everyone else’s in the stadium, rose in pre-emptive celebration, only for the captain to hump the ball inexplicably wide and over.
“It would have been deliverance,” said Uwe Neuhaus on Union’s fruitless attempts to find a second goal, and Belaid would surely agree – a goal or an assist here would have strengthened his claim for a starting spot in next week’s encounter with Paderborn. When Silvio and Belaid replaced Nemec and Terodde, Union were a different team, full of energy, movement and threat, albeit against a team of ten men chasing the game. Now that Union have achieved a dirty 1-0 win, it could be time to start aiming for stylish 2-0 or 3-0 wins.
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