Cologne rediscovered their fight at home to Hoffenheim. But disaster struck deep into stoppage time when VAR spotted a penalty that wasn't signaled immediately. Cologne's technological curse shows no sign of lifting.
First things first: With the help of the video assistant referee, the correct decision was reached when Cologne substitute Dominick Drexler accidentally kicked away Sargis Adamyan's leg as they both went for a loose ball in the box in the last minute of stoppage time.
But that did little to console home fans in desperate need of a win, after their team had put up a rare and real fight in a difficult season, and after several bitter experiences with refereeing and VAR decisions this season.
Even the stadium announcer called the decisive spot kick, which ultimately fell in the 98th minute and made the score 2-1, by saying: "It makes you sick, and... goal."
Whistles and boos rang out around the ground and some beer glasses flew when the match came to a close soon after Jürgen Locadia's late goal.
On-pitch referee Robert Kampka had an exquisite view of the scene from just a couple of meters away. He immediately stopped play but called on the technical support team so he could review the scene before awarding the penalty.
Kampka did not immediately signal for a penalty, first attending to players hurt in the collision, but it seemed clear he was heading to review the scene
Hoffenheim super-sub Sargis Adamyan acknowledged after the game that his side could be "very happy" with three points given the run of the game.
Read more: Opinion: VAR has stolen football’s soul
Keeping Cologne in the cellar?
The Cologne-based underground HQ for all Bundesliga VAR activity is nicknamed the "Cologne cellar," and several local fans have already quipped it must be so called because it seems to exist to help keep Cologne in the cellar, a common German slang term for the relegation zone. Both players and coach Achim Berierlorzer vented their frustration on DAZN microphones after the game, after receiving cheers for their efforts from disappointed supporters.
"It's a really tough moment for us. We put up a really good fight and it hurts like heck to come away without any points," said midfielder Louis Schaub, who set up the opening goal in the first half. "You can certainly give it [the penalty], but of course it's really bitter for us when it takes place so close to full time."
"When you look at the performance we delivered over 90 minutes — perhaps not in fooballing terms but in terms of fight. We threw everything we had at them, kept them well clear of our goal. If then, at the end, you suffer a sucker punch like that, it really hurts," Simon Terrode said.
Coach Beierlorzer went on the offensive a little more.
"They only had two chances, and sadly they converted one of them. Both sides absolutely wanted the win, we had a huge chance just before the last turn of events. It's certainly quite bitter, what's going on with us at the moment with refereeing decisions: 'Video evidence, yes or no? This one we'll review, this one we won't.' It's definitely bitter at the moment," he said. After reviewing the scene on a monitor while on microphone, Beierlorzer could only repeat: "It's bitter."
As recently as match day 9, Cologne fans were convinced a penalty appeal of theirs deserved a VAR review which never came. The DFB acknowledged after the game that a mistake had been made. They went on to lose against Mainz 3-1. And memories of similar suffering at the hands of video evidence in their successful fight against relegation last season are still raw.
Armin Veh leaves with immediate effect
Right after the defeat, Cologne released a press release saying that general manager Armin Veh would be leaving the club with immediate effect. The decision was described as mutual, and as having nothing to do with Friday's game. This perhaps explained Veh's emotionless response in the stands to Jhon Cordoba's opening goal for the hosts.
"I would have liked to have continued my work at FC until the end. But in our current situation, in which 1. FC Köln must make an important decision for the future, it's consequential from my point of view to bring our work together to an end," Veh was quoted as saying.
Coach Beierlorzer said after the game that he learned of this development when the public did, adding "I haven't had time to think about it yet." Beierlorzer's own future has also been called into question, but he told reporters after the game that this issue was out of his hands: "Now the club must decide. Was it okay, was what the team delivered okay? Or do we need to press reset? We have too few points. We know that."
Sure enough, on Saturday afternoon, Cologne confirmed that Beierlorzer would also be leaving the club with immediate effect, with Andre Pawlak and Manfred Schmid taking the reins in the interim as Cologne seek new leadership.