Rapid had signed off the 2014/15 season with a crunching 5:0 win in Carinthia against the WAC, and it was with this victory fresh in the mind that the Green & White entourage headed south for Sunday's game in the Lavanttal. However, the outcome would be entirely different this time round. Three points would have seen the Hütteldorfers reclaim top spot in the Bundesliga, but after a strong opening to the game an out of sorts Rapid side slipped to a 2:1 defeat against livelier opponents. Trainer Zoran Barisic was once more able to call upon the services of Thanos Petsos and Louis Schaub; but winger Philipp Schobesberger was unavailable for selection owing to a slight knee complaint. Mario Sonnleitner donned the captain's armband in his 300th Bundesliga appearance, with Steffen Hofmann amongst the subs.
The early stages of the game saw Rapid in the ascendency, but the hosts proved more than capable of fending off the Green & Whites' forays forwards. Just eleven minutes into his comeback Thanos Petsos had to hobble off the field with the help of the Rapid medical team after twisting his ankle - not a sight that would have pleased Zoran Barisic who would have been delighted to have the influential midfield general back prior to kick-off. Srdjan Grahovic came on in the injured Greek-German's place. Half chances came and went at both ends, but Rapid continued to boss the game in terms of territory and possession, enjoying an impressive 77% of the ball.
Rapid trail at the break
The first clear chance of the afternoon fell the way of the hosts when Standfest fed the ball into Thomas Zündel from a throw in, via an attempted headed clearance from Dibon, who found himself in an excellent shooting position but the missed the target with his effort (24.). During this phase WAC began to take control of the match, with Rapid's lack of rhythm being encapsulated when Dibon and Stangl collided in the box, with the latter requiring treatment before carrying on. Wolfsberg were going into challenges harder in this phase of the game, and the momentum tangibly shifted away from Green & White.
A tame effort from Stefan Stangl (40.) failed to properly test the underworked WAC goalie Dobnik as Rapid struggled to build a head of steam during the majority of the first half. Louis Schaub then had a very good opportunity just seconds later but screwed his shot well wide, before a slice of luck at the other end saw Didi Kühbauer's team steal ahead. A scruffy move down the left flank saw the ball fed into Jacobo deep in the Rapid penalty area. As the WAC man approached the near post he was greeted by Jan Novota, and attempted to feed a low ball across the goalmouth which clipped Novota’s heel and inadvertently ended up in the back off the net - 1:0 to the hosts who had probably shaded proceedings and deservedly went into the break a goal to the good.
Late Schaub goal not enough
With Rapid having been forced into an early substitution, unsurprisingly the Green & Whites emerged unchanged for the start of the second period. It was the ‘Wolves’ though who flew out of the traps, and Rapid were indebted to Novota for keeping the deficit at just one goal as he twice superbly denied Issiaka Quedraogo in the opening minutes. Wolfsberg picked up where they left off in the first half in terms of being solid and compact at the back, but they had also began finding a greater cutting edge in the attacking third to compliment their defensive solidity. It would have surprised few when the hosts added a second in the 58th minute: a series of weak tackles from Rapid saw WAC sweep up field on a counter, which culminated in Quedraogo stepping inside an incredibly weak attempt at a tackle from Dibon before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the back of the net giving Novota no chance - 2:0, and not pleasant viewing for the Rapid bench, which reacted by bringing on Steffen Hofmann for Deni Alar. The substitution changed little though, as Wolfsberg sat deeper and deeper in their own third, with the Hütteldorfers unable to find a way through. At the start of the Rapid Viertelstunde the ineffective Jelic was replaced by Philipp Prosenik in Barisic’s last roll of the dice. In the dying minutes of the game Wolfsberg nearly added some gloss to the score line, but Wernitznig struck the crossbar after having relieved Flo Kainz of the ball midway inside Rapid's half (89.). With virtually the last kick of the game Louis Schaub halved the arrears: good work down the left flank from Flo Kainz resulted in a chipped cross finding Schaub at the back post, who chested the ball down before slamming the into the net with a powerful left foot finish (93.).
The goal proved a case of too little, far too late and WAC saw off the last few seconds to record their second win of the season. The off-colour Hütteldorfers need to quickly put this defeat out of their minds as the games continue to come thick and fast. Four games in a matter of two weeks lie in store for Barisic’s men, all to be played at the Ernst Happel Stadium. First up is the visit of Viktoria Plzen on Thursday, followed on Sunday by Austria Vienna and the city derby. Next week Rapid welcome Austria Salzburg to Vienna on Wednesday in the ÖFB Cup, whilst Sturm Graz will provide a stern test as Bundesliga action resumes the following weekend. There will be plenty of chances in the coming weeks for Rapid to re-establish their early season form and arrest this mini slump that afflicted them over the past few domestic games.