When Benedict Hollerbach finally freed 1. FC Union Berlin from the nagging doubt of victory with his shot into luck, Nenad Bjelica disappeared into a blissful crowd of players.
"If you didn't know me, you know me now. That was pure emotion," said the new Eiserne coach about the euphoric scene of collective celebration after the second goal in the An der Alten Försterei stadium.
Bjelica's Bundesliga debut couldn't have gone better. "This team has a big heart. Every single one of them has proven that. That's important to me," emphasized the 52-year-old Croatian after the game, which ultimately won 3-1 (1-0), against the harmless guests from Borussia Mönchengladbach. “Right from the start we didn’t bring the performance to the pitch, with and without the ball,” stated their disillusioned coach Gerardo Seoane.
After 16 games and 105 days without any success, the Iron Men sent a strong signal in the relegation battle of the Bundesliga with a courageous performance. Kevin Volland (23rd minute) with a hand penalty, Hollerbach (50th) and Mikkel Kaufmann (75th) with their first Union goals scored the goals for the dominant hosts in the stadium, which was sold out with 22,012 spectators. Alassane Pléa (77th) could only shorten the score for Borussia.
Good mood for the real duel
Under new coach Bjelica, Union jumped from last to 15th place in the Bundesliga, at least for one night. The people of Köpenick could hardly have celebrated a better mood for the last Champions League game on Tuesday against the great Real Madrid. “We can go into this game with a broad heart,” said Bjelica. Only with a win against the international record champions does Union have a minimal chance of surviving the winter, at least in the Europa League.
Mönchengladbach is currently not thinking internationally. “We’ll analyze it,” Seoane said of the inexplicably poor performance. The Gladbachers were unable to carry the momentum from the cup win against VfL Wolfsburg on Tuesday and remained winless in their fourth league away game in a row. Six points ahead of Union is not a big cushion.
Bjelica will Offensivakzente
Constantly put pressure on, play offensively. These were Bjelica's instructions to his team. After three and a half months of maximum sadness, that sounded like almost foolhardy wishful thinking. But, lo and behold: Gladbach played along dutifully and tiredly after 120 minutes of the cup, and the Eisernen showed by far their best performance since those August days, when Union were at the top of the table after two match days under long-term coach Urs Fischer.
Hollerbach worked diligently on his image as the first big winner of the coaching change. Under Fischer he was a permanent reservist, now he was a cheeky driver. “I had a good feeling all week,” reported the match winner. The new signing from Wehen Wiesbaden now plays with less frills, said captain Rani Khedira. That was the advice from his colleagues, said Hollerbach. "He can bring us into the game with speed," said Bjelica about the attacker, who is not allowed to play against Real because Fischer did not register him for the UEFA Champions League squad.
After the opening goal with a hand penalty from Kevin Volland (23rd minute), Hollerbach pulled away shortly after the break. Unsustainable for ex-Union player Moritz Nicolas in the Gladbach goal. The fact that Joker then met Kaufmann was fitting for this new chapter in the Union saga. The Dane was also Fischer's second choice at best.