With Union Berlin Head Coach, Nenad Bjelica banned for a violent altercation with Leroy Sané during an ill-tempered defeat to Bayern Munich in midweek, the hosts welcomed Bundesliga’s bottom side, SV Darmstadt 98 looking for something, anything from this game.
It was 15th against 18th in the Bundesliga and the game had all the hallmarks of a relegation six-pointer as both sides battled out a goalless first-half.
The game came to life in the second half as Hollerbach finally opened the scoring. Gosens went close soon after with an audacious karate and Behrens had multiple opportunities to seal the game but ultimately it didn’t matter as Union Berlin held on to leave Darmstadt rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table.
Story of the match
From a distance, Bjelica made two changes to the side that lost in midweek.
In came Kevin Behrens and András Shäfer for Kevin Volland (head injury) and Janik Haberer as Union opted for experience.
Torsten Lieberknecht, pursuing Darmstadt’s first win since Augsburg in October, made just one change from the 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt last week.
In came Klaus Gjasula at centre-back for Matej Maglica.
The sides had faced off just once since 2019, a 4-1 away win for Union at the start of this season and the opening exchanges went in the way of the hosts as die Eisernen came flying out the traps.
Benedict Hollerbach created the first opening of the game in the second minute with a lung-bursting run down the left.
Once inside the box, he lifted his head to find Shäfer on the edge of the box but the attacking midfielder rushed his effort and failed to get a meaningful touch on the ball.
A minute later and Darmstadt won their first corner. The ball fell to Tim Skarke but he was unable to find a gap through the Union defence.
That proved to be the final action for 15 minutes as the game was suspended due to a protest from the Waldseite ultras.
With tennis balls raining down on the pitch behind Frederik Rönnow, Union Berlin and Darmstadt supporters voiced their opposition to recent DFL private investment.
Eventually the game restarted and Union Berlin were back on the attack.
Robin Gosens and Hollerbach created small chances but Marcel Schuhen was relatively unthreatened in the Darmstadt goal.
Union’s best chance came in the 34th minute as Lucas Tousart headed over a Christopher Trimmel corner from six yards.
A few seconds later and Union’s were in disbelief again as Kevin Behrens was put clean through on goal by Robin Gosens but fired over from ten yards.
Watching from the stands, Bjelica had his head in his hands as Behrens continued his struggled infront of goal having scored just four times so far this season
Darmstadt dominated possession until the half-time whistle but failed to breakdown the Union defence in a familiar trend that has seen the visitors fail to score in five games since November.
Like the first, Union Berlin went on the offensive immediately.
With around 46th minutes on the clock, Král passed to Trimmel on the edge of the box. Trimmel drilled the effort low to Schuhen’s left but missed the post by inches.
30 seconds later and Union Berlin thought they were finally ahead.
Hollerbach was through one-on-one with Schuhen. The opening goal looked certain but the Darmstadt goalkeeper stayed tall and denied the striker with an outstretched left foot that deflect the ball wide for a corner.
Union were knocking on the door but Darmstadt nearly scored on the counter in a frantic opening few minutes
Matthias Bader found space on the edge of the box but his low shot was deflected narrowly over Rönnow’s bar for a corner.
The game then swung from end to end until the hour mark when Union Berlin finally broke the deadlock.
Král made a decisive interception at the back and Union unleashed a clinical counter-attack with Hollerback making no mistake this time.
Schäfer provided the assist as Hollerbach found himself one-on-one with Schuhen again. The forward stayed composed and slid the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs to send the Waldseite delirious and Union Berlin ahead.
Union nearly doubled their lead in extraordinary fashion in the 68th minute as Schäfer lifted the ball to Gosens at the back post.
From the byline, Gosens attempted an audacious scissor kick-cum-Karate kick that forced Schuhen into a wonderful low save from point-blank range.
Union went close again in the 75th minute as a Schäfer free-kick from the left was headed wide by Kevin Behrens under pressure from Schuhen. It seemed easier to score than miss from two yards.
Behrens had another chance with just six minutes left on the clock.
Substitute Brendan Aaronson set up Behrens for a huge one-on-one chance, 15 yards out. But when confidence is low, the easiest of chances can feel like a mountain.
Behrens took a heavy first touch that sent him wide and his effort was weak, enabling Schuhen to smother the ball.
In the dying seconds, Union nearly sealed the game as Aaronson released Mikel Kaufman into the Darmstadt box but his first-time effort was saved low by Schuhen.
Schuhen was formidable in goal for Darmstadt but his strikers could not match his performance and Union Berlin held out for a desperate but deserved three-points.
The win moved Union five points clear of FC Koln in the relegation places but Darmstadt remained rooted to the bottom of Bundesliga.
Player of the match: Benedict Hollerbach
There aren’t many players who can lift fans to their feet and bring a game to life on their own. Even fewer at the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Fortunately for Union Berlin, they have a game-changer and a goal-scorer.
In truth, Hollerbach often lacks composure and wastes opportunities in the final third when crossing the ball or looking for another option, but his unpredictability is his greatest strength.
He has a wealth of confidence and tricks that deserve the highest of stages and was the difference between the two sides.
Hollerbach should have scored a hat-trick but his confidence never waned and his head never dropped. The goal was the least he and Union Berlin deserved.
Next up for the hosts is a trip to RB Leipzig as Darmstadt travel to league-leaders, Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
The winless run continues for Darmstadt and if Union Berlin carry on playing like this, Darmstadt could be nine points off 15th before the second week of February.
It will take a miracle for Darmstadt to avoid Bundesliga relegation.