September 17, (THEWILL) – Bundesliga side Union Berlin featured Taiwo Awoniyi and Slavia Prague had Ubong Ekpai involved in the team’s UEFA Europa Conference League season opener at the Sinobo Stadium in Praha on Thursday. Awoniyi’s rising level of goal-scoring displays so far for Union was on an off day as Slavia won 3-1 to take a commanding Group E position.
The hosts closed out the Nigerian striker for Union to ensure that Awoniyi could not continue the excellent form that saw him score two goals and supply one assist in the qualifying double header against Finland’s kuPS which Union won by a 4-0 aggregate.
With Slavia’s Nigerian winger Peter Olayinka still recovering from his injury, he did not feature for the Czech champions and they still handled their opening game with a composed overall performance to the appreciation of manager Jindrich Trpisovsky.
The pair of Nigerians finished the game on yellow cards, the earlier of which was issued against Awoniyi at the quarter-hour mark while the caution against Ekpai came exactly 10 minutes after as referee Fabio Verissimo tried to keep a firm control over proceedings.
However, before the yellow for Ekpai, the Nigeria’s Slavia teammate Alexander Bah had opened the scoring in the 18th minute. Bah took advantage of the rebound from a corner kick and struck for goal from the 18-yard-box to give the hosts the early lead.
The opportunity opened for Awoniyi to equalise shortly after to give the German side a balancing of the momentum. Defender Robin Knoche picked out Max Kruse, Awoniyi’s strike partner with a beautiful through ball in behind the Slavia defence. Kruse located his co-forward but Awoniyi could only shoot off target to even his own dismay.
The struggle to get back into contention away from home became even more arduous when Union’s Paul Jaeckel was sent off after receiving his second yellow card in the 40th minute of the match. It left the side trailing with a numerical disadvantage, a slot to fill on the left back position and a lot of time left to prevent a trouncing in Praha.
Even with these overwhelming odds, Awoniyi pulled on his reserves and had the ball in the net with just 10 minutes into the second half, making the most of an incisive assist from Kruse this time. However, the leveller was correctly ruled out for offside.
The tough German side went toe-to-toe with the Czech team even with their deficit to show why they had not lost any of their league and continental matches so far this term. And when manager Urs Fischer substituted Awoniyi for Kevin Behrens, it proved to be for good because Behrens hit an equaliser in the 70th minute.
However, as fatigue began to set in in the late stages of the tie, Slavia finally exploited their advantage to score two late goals from substitutes Jan Kuchta and Ivan Schranz both of whom Trpisovsky brought in in the second half.
Slavia’s 3-1 defeat of Union leaves Awoniyi and company at the bottom of the standings because the other teams in the group: Feyenoord and Maccabi Haifa, drew 0-0 to stay joint-second after playing out a goalless draw on Wednesday.