FC Union Berlin 3-4 VfL Bochum: Union run out of Hof and puff as Hofmann seals crucial victory

There is a simple rule in German football: larger the flag, the more important the occasion.

In the Alte Försterei, the red and white flags that filled the terraces almost touched the Waldseite roof as FC Union Berlin welcomed Bundesliga relegation rivals, Bochum to Köpenick in the third last game of the season.

Red and blue flags melted into a sea of colour throughout Köpenick from about 10:30am this morning as fans from both sides created an atmosphere worthy of the game’s significance.

Fans made their way to the stadium early to show their support and the stands were filled at least two hours ahead of the 15:30 kick-off.

The Ultras will say that results don’t always matter in this part of Berlin but today suggested otherwise.

After all, results have brought Köpenick many special days in recent memory.

Promotion to the Bundesliga, European cup nights under floodlights, and derby victories against city rivals Hertha BSC are just some of the highlights in the last few seasons.

After their inaugural Champions League appearance, Bundesliga relegation would hurt everyone connected to the club.

A tense 4-3 defeat against Bochum today leaves Union Berlin facing a likely relegation play-off battle to retain their status.

Story of the match

This season, Union Berlin have got used to taking what they’re given.

Within one win in their last five matches and sitting just two points above the Bundesliga relegation play-off place, the hosts are mired in dog-fight.

The visitors are no different.

Bochum have won just once in the previous ten matches, but their 3-2 victory against Hoffenheim last weekend lifted them level with Union Berlin.

With Mainz, below them, unbeaten in the last six, it is likely that the final relegation spot will be filled by Union Berlin or Bochum.

Reflecting their clubs’ positions in the league, the atmosphere in the stadium was desperate.

It became more desperate in the 16th minute as Bochum opened the scoring.

Maximilian Wittek slid a Moritz Broschinski cut-back calmly into the bottom corner.

It was only Wittek’s second goal of the season and he looked as surprised as everyone else in his hectic celebration.

In the 30th minute, his celebration was more assured.

Union had briefly come to life but were hit on the counter as Wittek danced through the Union defence.

The German midfielder picked up the ball on the right and had acres of space to cut back onto his left before firing past Frederik Rönnow.

The Bochum bench were delirious, Union were dazed.

The knock-out blow seemed to come a few minutes later.

Former Unioner, Keven Schlotterbeck struck confidently into the top of the net in the 37th minute.

For once, Unioners fell silent in the stands.

On the sidelines, Bjelica stood with his arms crossed, expressionless, clueless.

Reports emerged in midweek that the Croatian Head coach would depart at the end of the season.

Based on today’s first-half performance, it could have been imminent.

But Union came out fighting in the second half.

Bjelica made three changes and substitute, Yorbe Vertessen nearly reduced the deficit inside the first few minutes.

His effort on the edge of the box was denied by a desperate block.

His strike from 25 yards in the 58th minute was unstoppable as it curled away from Manuel Riemann in the Bochum goal.

Vertessen and his fellow substitutes, Aaronson and Chris Bedia were causing the Bochum defence headaches.

Five minutes later, the substitutes all linked up to set Bedia through on goal.

The striker took a touch to set himself and then fired past Riemann to lift the roof off the Alte Forsterei.

Recent history has taught Unioners that anything is possible and they believe in miracles.

Their faith was tested in the 70th minute as Philipp Hofmann was left unmarked at the back post to extend Bochum’s lead with his head.

But Union Berlin weren’t finished.

In the 74th minute, Aaronson danced through the Bochum defence, reminiscent of Wittek in the first half. He found an inch of space to find Hollerbach who slotted the ball past Riemann for Union’s third of the afternoon.

Soon after, there were chances for Juranovic from a free-kick, strong appeals for a penalty, and a huge chance in added time for Aaronson but Bochum held on for a memorable victory.

Moment of the Match

Wittek’s second goal of the afternoon was a moment of brilliance that ultimately took the game away from Union Berlin, but Bjelica’s half-time changes unlocked the Bochum defence in the second half.

Vertessen, Bedia, and Aaronson took the game to Bochum, combining around the box and running at the defence.

Union Berlin showed what can be achieved in a 4-4-2 formation but it was too little too late for the hosts.

Wittek’s first half brace was enough to give Bochum a crucial victory that left Union Berlin thinking what could have been.

With just FC Koln and Freiburg to play, Union have a mountain to climb to avoid falling into the Bundesliga relegation play-off.

GGFN | Oscar O’Mara

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