Early exchanges bore all the hallmarks of a derby, with reckless challenges flying in from all angles. Matheus Cunha was targeted from the off, and the Brazilian was on the receiving end of some sly tackles from midfielder Robert Andrich.
Hertha were well on top in terms of possession but fell behind after 20 minutes to a scruffy goal from young Liverpool loanee Awoniyi. Breaking quickly, Union required only two passes to advance from the halfway line to the edge of Alexander Schwolow’s penalty area. Receiving a pass from Danish forward Marcus Ingvartsen, Awoniyi fought hard to bring the ball under control before brushing the shot beyond Schwolow’s outstretched arms.
Minutes later, Andrich was dismissed in what was the visitors’ first real blip of the game. In a misjudged attempt to bring a high ball down to the turf, the 26-year-old midfielder caught the face of Lucas Tousart with his studs. After a brief consultation with VAR, referee Felix Brych brandished the red card and reduced Die Eisernen to 10 men.
Union played on with unwavering confidence. They never looked unsettled before halftime despite the personnel disadvantage, and were resolute in keeping the increasingly threatening Hertha attack at bay.
The hosts began the second half in a similar fashion to way they had finished the first: sprightly, but sloppy.
It only took five minutes after the break for Hertha to draw level. Cunha tried his luck from range after finding space just outside the area, and his strike stung the gloves of Andreas Luthe, parrying the ball to the feet of stalwart defender Pekarik, who made no mistake in slotting the rebound neatly across the goalkeeper.
Hertha’s intensity dropped off for an extensive period of time, and Union steadily fought back, looking to utilise star man Max Kruse.
Die Alte Dame took the lead with just under 20 minutes to play when halftime substitute Piatek saw his shot from the edge of the penalty area take a wicked deflection off a defender before rolling into the back of the net. The chance had been created by some incredible wing play from Javairo Dilrosun, who found a perfect pass into Piatek’s feet from the left flank.
Three minutes later Polish striker Piatek struck again to double Hertha’s advantage, this time a far cleaner strike into the bottom-right corner following another great cross from fellow substitute Dilrosun, leaving Luthe hapless and Union beaten.
The victory served to be Hertha’s first home win of the season, and has pushed them clear of the relegation zone into 11th. Union stay put in 6th, but a win could have seen them leapfrog VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen into third.
Defending is still an issue for Bruno Labbadia
They may have come away with all three points, but Hertha’s win was by no means pretty, particularly at the back. Issues in the past continue to linger, with communication still at the heart of the problem. It was left down to heroics or, more frequently, opposition errors too often to keep the ball away from Schwolow’s net.
Union will challenge for Europe
The visitors looked dangerous every time they went forward. Union worked to the point each time they gained possession, which was personified by the incisive passing that led up to the opening goal.
When they fell a man down, they kept pressing and worked very hard as a unit, which went a long way to preserve their lead for more than half an hour. Eventually, with the extra ground to cover, they ran out of gas and conceded two more, but it was refreshing to see a team of players working for each other.
The loss hampers Union blistering start to the season, but they remain in contention for a spot in continental competition.
Man of the Match - Krzysztof Piatek
25-year-old Polish international Piatek was one of two inspired halftime substitutions made by Bruno Labbadia, the other being Javairo Dilrosun. Immediately Hertha posed a different threat up front in the form of a target man. Piatek seemed to have channelled the form that he looked to have left behind in the closing stages of last season, and his clinical (and somewhat fortunate) finishing spelt the difference in the derby.