No luck and no points as run of form continues
On Thursday night in Genk our hopes of spending the Christmas period still involved in European competition came to an abrupt end. The 0:1 defeat in Belgium sealed our fate, adding extra emphasis to Sunday's Bundesliga clash with Sturm Graz. With Sturm currently occupying the top echelons of the table and Rapid struggling for form, what is always a fiery encounter took on an unusual complexion. The magnitude of both the game - and the rivalry - was underlined by the 26,200 strong crowd, which included a healthy contingent of traveling Styrians. With an electric atmosphere emanating from the stands it was time for the players to get down to business on the pitch.
The game marked new Trainer Damir Canadi's home debut. With injuries rife and certain players edging back to fitness or suspended, Canadi opted for a starting eleven that looked more than capable of delivering a punch in the attacking third, and which also contained an unfamiliar name or two. With Mario Sonnleitner suspended, and right backs Pavelic, Auer, and Thurnwald unavailable for selection, Rapid lined up with three centre backs occupying the defensive positions. Thomas Schrammel and Arnor Traustason were deployed as wing backs flanking the three defenders; whilst Srdjan Grahovac and debutant Osarenren Okungbowa formed the defensive midfield pairing. The 22 year old Austrian Okungbowa has spent the previous six years working his way up through firstly the academy then reserve levels. It was a sweet moment for the combative midfielder, who has had to overcome recurrent and difficult injuries on the way to his first team debut. Further up the field Louis Schaub and fit again Philipp Schobesberger were looking to supply lone striker Giorgi Kvilitaia with ammunition in the hunt for goals.
After just 10 minutes the Allianz Stadium was stunned, as Sturm took a spectacular lead: from just under 30 meters out, defender Lykogiannis bent an unstoppable left footed free kick well beyond the reach of Richard Strebinger and into the top right hand corner of the net – 0:1 and just the start Canadi would have been looking to avoid. If any anxiety existed that the goal might adversely affect a Rapid side currently playing with fairly brittle confidence, Giorgi Kvilitaia's headed equaliser minutes later allayed such fears: from a devilish corner from Traustason, the Georgian goal getter rose above his marker to head the ball downwards and beyond the grasp of Sturm keeper Grazei to haul his side level - 1:1 and the Green & Whites immediately back in the game (13.)! The Hütteldorfers looked to build on the goal and went close through a deflected Schaub shot (15.). From the resulting corner Kvilitaia headed just inches wide, and may have feel he should have done better after finding space in the Sturm penalty area (16.). As an end to end encounter developed Richard Strebinger was called into action, producing an outstanding low save to deny Jeggo, much to the Graz striker's disbelief and frustration (18.). As the half wore on chances became harder to come by, with another Schaub shot and a Grahovac free kick providing notable moments for Rapid; whilst for the guests Jeggo shot over minutes before half time after a incisive move moved the ball dangerously through the midfield heart of Rapid (40.).
Okungbowa's debut lasted only 45 minutes as he was replaced at half time by Ivan Mocinic. However the introduction of the fiery Croatian did little to stem the tide of Sturm attacks: Strebinger was again on hand just two minutes after the restart to produce a stunning low save to deny Edomwonyi, whose shot across the goal mouth had appeared destined for the far right hand corner (47.). Ex-Rapid man Huspek then fired over from a good position (49.), before the Hütteldorfers regained composure and threatened once more via a Kvilitaia header that went a hair's breadth over the crossbar (55.).
After the early rush of chances the fluidity and creativity of both sides seemed to suffer somewhat as the game became largely stuck in the middle third and turned into something of a midfield battle. Another header from Kvilitaia looked to have won the day for the Green & Whites, but it went agonisingly wide of the target by a matter of inches (78.). If Rapid had been devoid of the little bit of luck required to sometimes win football matches, the same couldn't be said of Graz's 81st minute winner: after commandingly winner a header on the edge of his own box, Max Hofmann attempted to charge down a Schmerböck long range effort, after the Sturm man had gathered the loose ball just outside the area. His attempt took a wicked deflection off Hofmann's thigh and looped into the back of the net leaving Strebinger totally helpless - 1:2 (81.). These fine margins have been a constant feature in this hitherto turbulent season.
With too little time to react the Rapid counter charge failed to materialise and we went down to a defeat on Canadi's home debut. On Wednesday we travel to Burgenland to face struggling SV Mattersburg. Canadi and his squad perhaps fortunately do not have to wait too long to get a much needed three points on the board.
tipico Bundesliga, 16th round:
SK Rapid - SK Sturm Graz 1:2 (1:1)
Allianz Stadion, 26.200 Attendance, Ref Schüttengruber
Goals: 0:1 Lykogiannis (10.), 1:1 Kvilitaia (13.), 1:2 Schmerböck (81.);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - M. Hofmann, Schößwendter, Wöber - Traustason, Grahovac, Okungbowa (46./Mocinic), Schrammel - Schaub (70./Jelic) - Schobesberger (60./Szanto), Kvilitaia;
SK Sturm Graz: Gratzei - F. Koch, Spendlhofer, Schulz, Lykogiannis - Matic, Jeggo - P. Huspek, Alar, Schmerböck (84./Potzmann) - Edomwonyi (71./Zulechner);
Yellow Cards: Jeggo;