Germany: Bundesliga
2 - 0
(1 - 0)
Union Berlin
M. Gregoritsch (16), A. Hahn (59)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15.30 Kickoffs: Augsburg claim critical win, Hrustic brace sinks Stuttgart

A crucial win at the WWK Arena pulled FC Augsburg up to 15th place on 22 points in the most significant result of the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs. Opponents Union Berlin dropped their first match without talismanic attacker Max Kruse. 

Elsewhere, wins for Eintracht Frankfurt, FSV Mainz 05, and 1. FC Köln ensure that the Bundesliga's 5th placed team (Freiburg) and 10th placed team (Mainz) are only separated by three points. 

A 1-1 draw between Gladbach and Bielefeld did neither side much good. 
The Bundesliga's Bavarian Swabian representatives obtained a much-needed boost in front of a modest hometown finally allowed back into the WWK Arena. A 2-0 win over visiting 1. FC Union Berlin enables the FC Augsburg to pull clear of the relegation playoff place, at least for the night.

Entering the match, the big question for Urs Fischer's Köpenick side remained how the squad would cope with the shocking (and somewhat controversial) departure of Max Kruse at the end of the transfer window. Fischer at least had his leading goal scorer Taiwo Awoniyi back from international duty with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations. The former Liverpool man spearheaded Fischer's familiar 3-5-2 "double stack" together with former Bielefeld striker Andreas Voglsammer.

Sheraldo Becker and Genki Haraguchi worked as the secondary attackers. Rani Khedira, who this week promised the Union Berlin fans that "nothing would fall apart" after Kruse's departure, anchored the midfield, flanked by wingbacks Niko Gießelmann and Christopher Trimmel. Robin Knoche played pivot in the back-three just ahead of Dominique Heintz and Timo Baumgartl. Andreas Luthe also returned to reclaim his place between the sticks after missing the last match.

Augsburg trainer Markus Weinzierl also had to make some changes. American forward Ricardo Pepi was among those USMNT stars (just like Chris Richards and Tyler Adams) who returned from international duty carrying an injury. In the Texan's case, he should be back quickly after a merely suffering a broken nose. Michael Gregoritisch took Pepi's place in the FCA 4-4-2.

Andre Hahn also worked the right wing opposite Ruben Vargas. Niklas Dorsch returned to the midfield to partner with fellow Germany U21 teammate Arne Maier. Raphael Framberger and Iago also replaced Mads Pedersen and Robert Gumny in the fullback slots. Some 6,000 fans were permitted into the WWK Arena to cheer on their hometown side for the first time since mid November.

The presence of live spectators certainly made a difference for the Fuggerstädter. Spurned on by the cheers in the stands, the FCA were very present in contesting the midfield duels. Union attempted to establish control of the game via ball circulation, but the host actors were constantly stripping the ball away. After a period of sustained pressure, Maier picked Luthe's pocket clean and set up Gregoritsch for the 1-0 in the 16th.

There were several chances to double the advantage immediately thereafter. In terms of Union's response, Becker was able to feed Awoniyi on a couple of occasions. The Nigerian striker simply didn't have his timing down in his first game back. Luthe saved a sure-fire 2-0 off of Niderlechner's boot in the 25th. Gregoritsch would then hit the crossbar in the 40th. Awoniyi shot over again one minute from the stroke of halftime.

The hosts stood fairly deep for the first 12 minutes of the second half. Union could nevertheless not take advantage. Eventually, die Eisernen got caught out on a counter in the 59th. Niederlechner won a crucial sideline duel and furthered for Hahn. The former Gladbach and Hamburger SV striker supplied a truly amazing finish for the 2-0.

Fischer did bring on the hastily acquired Kruse replacement Sven Michel just after the hour mark. The long-time Paderborn striker came close to scoring in the 65th. Michel got another shot in at 90+1. Union substitute Keita Endo also forced a save out of FCA keeper Rafal Gikiewicz in 79th. Apart from these instances, the visiting Köpenickers weren't able to muster anything much of note.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, Mainz were also able to defeat Hoffenheim by a 2-0 scoreline. The fixture remained tied 0-0 until Jae-Sung Lee broke through with a lovely goal in the 79th. Captain Moussa Niakhaté then converted a late handball penalty. Mainz set a new record with five consecutive home games without conceding a goal.

Borussia Mönchengladbach find themselves in the midst of a less positive streak. Adi Hütter's foals could only manage a 1-1 draw in their trip to the Alm. The result leaves them winless in five games on the trot. The BMG West Prussians have only won twice in their last 12 matches over the last three plus months.

Freiburg were denied their own 1-1 draw when a Roland Sallai equalizer was annulled in their visit to the cathedral city. Hosts Köln were thus able to prevail with a 1-0 victory. The three points--obtained without head-coach Steffen Baumgart--pushes the Effzeh all the way up to 6th in the table; one point behind Freiburg.

There was also an absolute cracker in the southern Autostadt of Stuttgart. Pellegrino Matarazzo's men did break their long scoreless streak via some solid goals from Waldemar Anton and (very importantly) talismanic striker Sasa Kalajdzic. Borna Sosa and Silas also turned in solid performances on the wings.

All three points nevertheless went to visiting Eintracht Frankfurt, who were simply the better team. Rumored-to-depart Australian attacker Ajdin Hrustic came off the bench at the restart to score a brace in the SGE's 3-2 victory. With their first three points of the year, Oliver Glasner's Hessen Eagles are back in the race for the European places.

Stuttgart, meanwhile, are three points off the relegation playoff place in 17th. No matter what happens in tomorrow's Wolfsburg-Fürth duel, it spells bad news for the Swabians in their quest to remain in the league.

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