In the duel between last year’ relegated teams, Hertha Berlin and Köln split the points on matchday 16’s showpiece game. The point keeps Hertha Berlin in second place in the standings and still unbeaten at home this season while Köln fall back down to 11th but continue to steady the ship after a disastrous start to the campaign. The hosts went down in the first half thanks to a McKenna header before Hertha’s brilliant Brazilian playmaker equalized on the stroke of halftime with a fine solo run.
Hertha coach Jos Luhukay made three changes despite a dominant 4-0 win in Aue last week. Allagui, Kuge and Brooks started in place of Schulz, Hubnik and Bastians. His opposite, Holger Stanislawski, saw no need to make changes after their 3-1 win against Bochum. Luhukay hoped to keep pace with the league leaders and in form Eintracht Braunschweig while Stanislawski wanted to build on their encouraging results recently.
Unfortunately for onlookers, the game did not quite live up to its billing and was characterized by sloppy passing and nervy moments in the final third. In the opening 20 minutes more focus was on the supporters protests to the DFL’s new safety measures than the actual match and the first real chance did not present itself until the 21st minute when Kluge had a shot from distance. His teammate Ronny then set up Sahar on the far post in the 29th minute. The Israeli international missed the shot but Hertha were clearly the more threatening of the two sides by then.
The opening goal came as a surprise to everyone in the Olympiastadion then because up to that point Köln had many of its attackers withdrawn defending in their own half. On 34 minutes though Köln won a free kick that caught Hertha flatfooted. Chihi’s delivery fell to Jajalo on the right who turned Ramos quite easily and crossed to an open McKenna who headed it into the near corner. Thankfully Ronny’s individual class pulled them level in the 44th minute when he collected the ball on the right, glided past four Köln defenders before releasing a shot into the far corner. A deserved goal to say the least.
Even after the break, Hertha were the more engaged and coherent side. The game’s start performer, Ronny, had another shot from 20 meters out that was just deflected in time to go over the bar. Minutes later Sahar skipped down the left and got into a one-on-one with Horn only to shoot wide. Köln’s midfield were losing the ball too easily. Matushyk and Jajalo misplaced a combined 24 passes and their distribution out of the back was equally poor. Their biggest danger man remained Chihi who had a go in the 54th and set up Brecko for their best opportunity of the second half in the 78th minute but that’s as close as the visitors came.
Hertha controlled much of the match. Niemeyer, Ronny and Kluge won the battle in midfield but they lacked another moment of individual brilliance to get the win in the end. Luhukay brought on an additional striker in Wagner towards the end but the team still struggled once they crossed the half way line and faced a cluttered Köln defensive third. To his credit, Stanislawski reacted well to their weakness in midfield and introduced Bigalke, Royer and Strobl but the focus seemed to divert from winning the game to leaving with a point.
In the end Köln will be the happier of the two sides, getting a point at a stadium teams seldom do this season. On Sunday they’ll play perhaps an even more important game as they host an Ingolstadt who is just three points above them. Hertha meanwhile will face a strong Cottbus on Monday.
Kraft – Ndjeng, Lustenberger, Brooks, Holland – Kluge (Hubnik), Niemeyer – Allagui, Ronny, Sahar (Wagner) – Ramos (Mukhtar)
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