Taiwo Awoniyi’s Union Berlin fell to a 3-0 home defeat against second-placed Borussia Dortmund in Sunday’s Bundesliga game. They missed an opportunity to keep their hold on one of the Champions League slots as they fell to sixth.
With Marco Reus’ first half brace Raphael Guerreiro’s second half tap in, Dortmund, on the other hand, closed the gap on leaders Bayern Munich who lost scandalously a day before, a 4-2 defeat at Bochum.
Nine points separates both sides at the start of the game and Union hoped to ensure they took the win from this sixth meeting of both sides in the Bundesliga. Dortmund had not won at the Stadion an der Alter Försterei the two previous times.
The Union fans showed their disaffection for the proposed new Bundesliga playoffs and potential matches in Saudi Arabia with a pitch side banner questioning German Football League managing director Donata Hopfen’s thoughts and propositions. ‘’Who dumped Mrs Hopfen in beer,” they asked.
The intimate Stadion an der Alter Försterei in the Köpernick district of Berlin is the home of Union, the smaller of the city’s two Bundesliga sides. The 22,000-capacity arena, where three-quarters is standing room only, is where Awoniyi has made home for the past two seasons, at first on-loan and now fully belonging to a side that has great ambitions.
The crowds chanted their songs and waved their red and white scarves when the club’s anthem was sung. They were led from the centre by club mascot Ritter Keule, an ironclad knight who led his fans to the battle.
But it was the visitors who started with the greater intent. Led by Marco Reus, Dortmund showed the better organization in the early stages. And they would go on to score the opening goal with Reus finding himself free inside the box and shooting under goalkeeper Andreas Luthe on 19 minutes.
Union responded immediately as they chased for an equalizer. Bastian Oczipka received a pass from Sheraldo Becker and laid on a cross for Awoniyi, but his header went wide. The fans asked for a better response from their team.
However, minutes later Union would go two goals down when Reus once again pounced on a loose ball, after Oczipka clashed into Donyell Malen, and dribbled past the rushing goalkeeper before slotting into the net. It was only 25 minutes on the clock and the game seemed to be beyond Union.
But the Union fans would not be quiet as they cheered every challenge won by their boys, even if it was in the middle of the pitch. Awoniyi’s battle upfront continued as he faced Mats Hummels and the mountain of a man in Dan-Axel Zagadou. While Awoniyi is used to bullying defenders, Zagadou stood firm, either in front or behind, and put his weight on the Union star.
Frustrated by it all, Awoniyi shoved Axel Witsel off the ball and lounged at Jude Bellingham for which he received a stern warning off from the referee. But the fans were happy to see the fight in him. They wanted to see their team get back in the game, and it was not going to be by being nice.
Just before second half began, I caught sight of Nigeria striker Anthony Ujah having a pep talk with Awoniyi and Becker. The older striker, troubled by injuries this season, patted his younger compatriot on the back, urging him on to do better.
The second half began with more intent on the Union side, after all, it was their game to lose. They won two quick corner kicks within the first seven minutes and Becker sent a shot just wide of goal.
And Awoniyi would be substituted off for Kevin Behrens on 61 minutes as the Union added some new attacking power upfront. The Nigerian walked off unhappy at being unable to score his tenth of the season and kicked at the substitute’s bench.
Guerreiro scored Dortmund’s third from a tap in while Behrens’ goal would be chalked off by the VAR for a hand ball, leaving the home fans frustrated.
Substitute Ujah saw a shot on goal go well wide later on, the Nigerian unable to pull his side back late in the game. But the Union fans remained in the stands till the end, chanting and willing their team on despite the result.