Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen share points after grueling draw
Hertha Berlin and Werder Bremen shared the spoils on Friday night with both goals coming inside the first half an hour for a 1-1 draw at the German capital.
Anthony Ujah cancelled out an early strike from Valentin Stocker to give both managers a point -- for Bremen, their first of the season after the defeat at home to Schalke last week. Summer signing Aron Johannsson started in attack for the first time following his move to AZ Alkmaar. He was denied a head-to-head with American John Anthony Brooks who was left on the substitutes' bench.
Brooks' future is surrounded by a little bit of uncertainty with VfB Stuttgart reportedly interested in signing him as a replacement for Antonio Rüdiger, while Hertha is in the market for a new central defender. In any case, Hertha was out to build on last week's win at FC Augsburg, and made just the one change with Genki Haraguchi replacing the suspended Roy Beerens. Johannsson was one of two changes for Bremen as he came in alongside 18-year-old Maximilian Eggestein.
The two clubs are coached by two men who have long associations with their respective clubs. Hertha convinced Pal Dardai to give up the Hungarian national team job and take over first-team duties having made his debut in Berlin in 1997. One year earlier, Viktor Skripnik joined Bremen and now he takes his side into his first full season as a head coach with former Toronto FC man Thorsten Frings as his assistant.
The Hungarian coach got the edge early on over his Ukrainian counterpart as the Berliners went into the lead after five minutes. A long-ball was cushioned by Salomon Kalou to Jens Hegeler but his shot struck a Werder defender before falling to Stocker who rammed the ball into the top of the net.
It was an impressive start from Hertha -- the speedy Japanese wide man Haraguchi bringing raw pace to the home team's game. But on 27 minutes, Ujah opened his account for the season to draw the sides level. Bremen pieced together a nice move on the wings for the first time, Garcia crossing into the middle. But keeper Thomas Kraft and his Hertha defenders failed to clear their lines and the Nigerian striker fought to pinch the ball and send it into the net.
That was incisive as either team got in the first-half. US international striker Johannsson struggled to make an impact with most of his service coming from long-balls. He did, however, link-up well on 43 minutes to create a chance for Eggestein, but Marvin Plattenhardt tackled well at the right moment.
When at their best, Dardai's men combined neatly up front and look strong enough to, at least, score their way out of the bottom group of clubs. Goalscorer Stocker -- a pretty impressive coup from Swiss champions FC Basel last season -- was involved in a hat-trick of good chances at the beginning of the half.
On 50 minutes, Vladimir Darida's shot deflected into his path, but the attacking-midfielder blazed his finish over the bar. Then, a minute later, Stocker weaved into a good situation and shot at goal, but the tackle from Assani Lukimya took the ball narrowly wide of the post.
As Hertha turned up the heat, Felix Wiedwald was called into action, saving at the feet of the Swiss forward who would have done better had his first-touch been crisper. After the hour mark, Hertha right back Peter Pekarik joined the action in attack, but his shot from the corner of the box hit the side-netting.
Neither team showed the conviction to get the winning goal at the Olympic Stadium, but Werder Bremen did end the match on the front-foot. Johannsson was subbed off on 79 minutes and a few minutes later, a Zlatko Junuzovic free-kick eventually clipped the crossbar after pinball inside the box.
With seven minutes left, another set-piece was met by Jannick Vestergaard, the Danish U-21 international, but his header hit the inside of Kraft's post with the keeper flat-footed on his goal line. Surprisingly, Brooks was brought on with a minute to play as Dardai pulled something from out of his sleeve to use the American as a target man -- but it was to no avail.
Hertha Berlin remains unbeaten after the win in Augsburg last weekend, whilst Bremen secures their first point of the season as Skripnik's team slowly look to be stuttering into life.