Rapid's European show rolls on with 3:2 win over Plzen!
The line-up for the key Europa League clash with reigning Czech champions Viktoria Plzen threw up a couple of surprises: firstly, Thanos Petsos had recovered from the twisted ankle sustained against WAC in time to make the starting eleven; whilst Mario Sonnleitner by contrast was replaced in the side by Max Hofmann at centre back. The game represented a massive opportunity for Rapid: a win against their Czech opponents would see them take a firm early grip of Group E and give them every chance of advancing into the knock out rounds.
However, the dream start Rapid were hoping for to take the pressure off quickly turned into a nightmare: the Czechs started with poise and purpose and took the lead when Duris connected with a cross to wrong foot Novota - 0:1 (12.). As on so many occasions his season though, Rapid refused to panic and instead set about finding the equaliser with some composed attacking football of their own. Flo Kainz played in advanced full back Stefan Stangl, who drew a save from Plzen keeper Kozacik (17.), as the Hüttledorfers began to build up a head of steam and exert serious pressure on their opponents. It came as no surprise when the equaliser eventually arrived on the half hour mark: Kainz broke off the left wing and drove into the middle of the pitch, where he played the ball behind the Plzen defenders into space where Steffen Hofmann lay in wait; the Rapid Captain firing the ball low and hard into the left hand corner - 1:1 (34.)!
As the game wore on towards half time though it was the Czech side who carried more menace. Rapid were grateful for the keeper's efforts as Novota produced a smart stop in the 36th minute, before spectacularly keeping out a header from Hejda (40.). The end of the first half probably came at the right time for Rapid, who could now re-group during the pause.
A revitalised Green & White outfit emerged at the start of the second period and began proving too much for their opponents and just minutes after the restart Louis Schaub put Rapid ahead: a blocked ball into the box from Stefan Schwab landed on the other side of the penalty area at the feet of Mario Pavelic. The right back swung the ball into the box, right into the goal mouth, where Louis Schaub was on hand to turn the ball over the line with his chest - 2:1 and Rapid had come from behind (52.)!
Just as Zoran Barisic was looking to start protecting Rapid's lead by sending on the defensively minded Grahovac for Steffen Hofmann, the Green & Whites doubled their advantage: a cross from Petsos was heading towards Schaub, who failed to get a touch on the ball, but obviously did enough to distract Plzen keeper Kozacik as the ball evaded him and carried on straight into the back of the net - 3:1 (67.)! The Hüttledorfers now smelt blood and went in search of a killer fourth, but desperate defending from the Czech's managed to scramble a Stangl cross to safety, before Jelic fired narrowly wide of the target (72.). However it was the guests who grabbed another, as Hrosovsky halved his side's arrears with a well-placed long range effort that comfortably beat Novota to insert some tension back into the match - 3:3 (76.).
But the Green & Whites professionally ran the clock down and yielded no more chances to their tricky opponents. Its three wins out of three now for the Hütteldorfers in Group E, who top the table at the half way stage!