Goals from Marko Grujic and Lukas Klostermann, followed in the second half by strikes from Patrik Schick and Krzysztof Piatek saw what was a crucial tie for both sides remain in stalemate for most of the match.
The sprightly visitors flew out the blocks and were looking like a wholly new side from the one that Jurgen Klinsmann departed in April. Under the new philosophy of German coach Bruno Labbadia, Die Alte Dame played very ambitious football, looking to utilise linchpin Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisievic in the penalty area following rapid, consistent approach play.
Hertha’s fast start reaped its rewards in the ninth minute when Marvin Plattenhardt, suffering from a suspected concussion, launched an inch-perfect corner onto the foot of 24-year-old midfielder Grujic, who volleyed home with aplomb.
The lead was to last only 15 minutes as Leipzig clawed their way back into the tie and began a string of relentless attacks. Also coming from a corner kick, Frenchman Christopher Nkunku’s cross was turned in via a clever glancing header from Klostermann to equalise.
Die Roten Bullen came back from the restart confidently, and they pressed and stretched the resolute Berlin defence into submission.
However, shortly after the hour mark, the hosts found themselves cut to a severe disadvantage with the second-yellow dismissal of Marcel Halstenberg, who had until then been playing a very strong game at left-back.
Leipzig looked unfazed as they continued to plunder the Hertha penalty area, with the culmination coming just five minutes later as Czech Schick’s weak shot got the better of Norwegian ‘keeper Rune Jarstein, whose confused flapping was not enough to prevent the third-placed hosts from taking the lead.
Substitute Ademola Lookman, whose trickery will be familiar to Charlton Athletic and Everton supporters, proved to be a real thorn in the side of the Hertha Berlin defence, who had a tough time containing the Englishman. He saw several chances fall his way, but combative, last-ditch tackles from both Dedryck Boyata and Jordan Torunarigha kept the youngster at bay.
It was Hertha’s own tricky winger who had the final laugh, however, when Matheus Cunha, on his 21st birthday, was brought down in the penalty area after delightful footwork bamboozled Lookman. Polish striker Piatek stepped up to take the spot-kick just eight minutes from time.
Opting for an unorthodox run-up that would not have looked out of place in an Olympic triple jump event, the 24-year-old sent Peter Gulacsi sprawling the wrong way and buried it in the bottom-left corner.
What this means
RB Leipzig will be kicking themselves that they could not get the job done against their bottom-half visitors. Borussia Dortmund’s historic defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday provided Die Roten Bullen with a golden opportunity to pip the former for second place (which they failed to take advantage of), while the latter run away from the competition, seven points clear.
Equally, the dropped points have done them no favours in the other direction, with both Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen creeping up behind them, each just two points adrift.
As for Hertha Berlin, they now sit 10th in the Bundesliga, with 10 points separating them from the once-looming relegation zone. Following VfL Wolfsburg’s emphatic win on the road in Leverkusen on Tuesday, Die Alte Dame now face a seven-point mountain to overcome should they wish for Europa League football next season.
Bruno Labbadia’s stellar winning-with-a-clean-sheet run comes to an end, but his unbeaten streak as Hertha boss continues.