OFFICIAL | FC Union Berlin send Bochum into the Bundesliga Relegation playoffs with last gasp goal

Little more than a year ago, two goals from Sheraldo Becker against Freiburg launched Union Berlin into the Champions League for the first time.

Fast forward 12 months, Union went into the final day of the 2023/24 Bundesliga season staring at relegation. Freiburg were again the opponents.

In a memorable season for all the wrong reasons, Urs Fischer and Nina Bjelica were collateral damage in the Capital as Union went into the final day of the season two points off safety and staring at the likely prospect of a relegation play-off against Dusseldorf for a place in next seasons Bundesliga.

At the other end of the table, Freiburg were competing for the final European Conference League qualification place in Christian Streich’s final game in charge before retirement.

Only a win would do for both sides.

Freiburg had to rely on Hoffenheim losing to Bayern Munich.

Union hopes of survival rested on defeats for Mainz 05 (away to Wolfsburg) and Bochum (away to Werder Bremen) above them. Beneat them, Köln still threatened three points behind and played Heidenheim away, needing an Union defeat to avoid automatic relegation.

Union did it the hard way.

Story of the day

Yet, both sides found themselves in a rut.

Freiburg were on a four-game winless streak and Union were winless in seven.

Streich made three changes, with Lucas Homer, Vincenzo Grifo, and Jody Makengo Basambundu coming into the side after their 1-1 draw against Heidenheim last weekend.

In his first game in charge, Macro Grote made three changes to the side that lost 3-2 away to Köln last weekend.

In came Yorbe Vertessen, Josip Juranovic and Lucas Tousart. Kevin Volland missed out.

The first chance fell to Vertessen in the 3rd minute but his tame effort was comfortably saved.

However, hopes lifted in the sixth minute as Werder Bremen took the lead against relegation rivals, Bochum.

If scores stayed as they are, a win would be enough for Union to survive.

That would not come easy.

In the 10th minute, Hofler was through on goal but Ronnow was out quickly to deflect the effort wide.

Freiburg was buoyed by early goals at Hoffenheim, where Bayern led 2-1 inside ten minutes.

In Köpenick, the game swung end-to-end.

In the 17th minute, Roland Sallai tried his luck for 18 yards but his effort curled narrowly wide of Rönnow’s right post.

In the same minute, Heidenheim took the lead and soon doubled it to put Köln on the verge of relegation.

Everything was going in Union’s favour.

Soon, Wolfsburg took the lead against Mainz but there was still 65 minutes to play.

In the 27th minute, Vertessen and Aaronson had chances blocked inside the Freiburg box as they looked to capitalise on results elsewhere.

However, Mainz quickly pegged Wolfsburg back, leaving Union relying on Bochum to survive.

Union had a golden chance to take control of their destiny in the 37th minute.

After a tense VAR delay, Union were awarded a penalty for handball by Makengo.

However, a tame effort by Josip Juranovic was comfortably saved by Noah Atubolu.

It was the final action of the half, leaving Union 45 minutes to take advantage of Mainz drawing and Bochum losing.

Freiburg still had dreams of Europe as Bayern remained 2-1 ahead of Hoffenheim.

Things stayed much as they were until the 67th minute, when the Alte Försterei stadium exploded into life.

Hollerbach, on for Vertessen, picked up the ball on the edge of the box and with just his second touch, drilled the ball into the top right corner.

The Waldseite erupted.

Union were, temporarily at least, outside the relegation zone.

In the same minute, things went from bad to worse for Freiburg as Hoffenheim equalised against Bayern.

The visitors had a mountain to climb.

However, not everything was going Union’s way.

In Wolfsburg, Mainz 05 had performed an extraordinary turnaround to lead 2-1.

Results were going better in Werder Bremen as the hosts were beating Bochum 3-0.

Union were hanging onto survival.

Hollerbach nearly sealed the victory in the 83rd minute but a desperate Freiburg defence did brilliantly to block his effort from 8 yards.

A minute later and Union were back in the relegation zone.

Freiburg counter-attacked and a delightful cross was delivered to Ritsu Doan, who made no mistake from 6 yards with his header.

It left Union with three minutes plus added time to avoid the relegation play-off.

In the first minute, they were gifted a lifeline for a foul in the box.

It fell to Kevin Volland.

But true to form, Volland hit the post and it fell to fellow substitute, Janik Haberer to score the rebound.

Cue pandemonium.

Union had done it.

In the most dramatic circumstances, they had sent Bochum into the relegation playoffs.

As Christian Streich bowed farewell, Union lived to fight another day in the Bundesliga.

Player of the Match

A German club participating in the Champions League had never been relegated in the same season.

They still haven’t but that is largely down to Hollerbach.

Substituted on with 30 minutes to play, the young forward brought the clinical edge that Union were missing.

His goal and performance will be remembered in these parts for many years to come.

GGFN | Oscar O’Mara

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