The steely and the sublime: Rapid come out on top in Linz
Rapid's trip to Upper Austria on Saturday to take LASK marked the end of a considerable hiatus in the history of the fixture. Having the Linz side back in the top-tier of Austrian football is certainly a welcome development and an enrichment for the league. The match in Linz's temporary home, the TGW Arena in Pasching, was sold out in advance of kick-off, with the in-form Hütteldorfers arriving in confident mood, keen to extend their increasingly impressive unbeaten run. Unable to join the travelling party was the ill Louis Schaub, whilst Philipp Schobesberger was only well enough to take a place on the bench. The absences provided an opportunity for Eren Keles to return to central midfield and make his seventh competitive appearance of the season. Thanos Petsos was handed a start anchoring the midfield in place of Dejan Ljubicic, whilst Christoph Haas was also named in the match day squad with Tobias Knoflach absent with an infection.
Wintery conditions blew around Pasching, as the onset of winter began to make its presence felt. The conditions seemed to encourage a fast start from the Green & Whites, as Keles worked a good low cross into a dangerous area in the Linz box but found no takers (2.). The all-action Boli Bolingoli then lofted a superbly measured pass into the path of Gio Kvilitaia, who controlled the ball well before finding the side-netting with a left footed shot under pressure from a combination of defender and goalkeeper (6.). More intricate football then led to Veton Berisha feeding Kvilitaia; the Gerogian striker slammed his team-mates pass into an empty net, only for the linesman to correctly raise an offside flag (13.). Rapid were playing well and getting close to a breakthrough. Then it arrived: A beautifully weighted pass from Stefan Schwab completely bisected the LASK defence and put Murg through on goal. One-on-one with goalkeeper Pervan, Murg displayed incredible cool - and no little skill - as he lifted the ball over the Linz goalie with a cheeky, deft chip and into the back of the net - 1:0 (25.)! Impressive in possession, Goran Djuricin's side were proving equally adept without the ball: great positioning, high pressing, and committed tackling kept Rapid on the front foot throughout the duration of the first half, with Richard Strebinger rarely tested throughout the first period.
As the game edged towards half time more good football from Rapid doubled the advantage: A powerful run from Berisha broke Linz's defensive lines, before complicated interplay between Rapid forwards saw the ball worked through tight spaces in front of the Linz penalty area to Keles on the right-hand side of the penalty area. Keles whipped the ball deep beyond the back post, where Schwab met the ball on the full, volleying into the ground and beyond the reach of Pervan into the far corner - 2:0 (37.). The sublime.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hosts, determined to make a better fist of things in the second half, emerged from the changing rooms energised and on the front foot. But despite edging possession and territory, clear-cut chances remained at a premium, and a well organised Rapid rear-guard seemed capable of comfortably holding the Black & Whites at bay. When LASK did penetrate the Rapid defence, Richard Strebinger was on hand to deny Rene Gartler with a superb stop when the striker looked odds on to score. The resulting corner provided another moment of danger, with a header guiding the ball onto the top of the crossbar (62.). The warning signs were developing, but weren’t headed by a Rapid side shorn of the services of the injured Kvilitaia; in his stead came Brazilian Joelinton. Sloppy play on the edge of the box handed possession to Linz, who, aided by some fortunate deflections, cashed in as Berisha slammed home from close range to reduce arrears to a single goal 1:2 (68.).
With the backing of a raucous 6000-strong crowd, Linz now had wind in their sails and looked capable of completing the turn-around. But the introduction of firstly Ljubicic then Schobesberger stemmed the tide somewhat. The home side, to their credit, continued to rally, ensuring that the game remained a contest right up until the final whistle. One hearts-in-mouths moment was in store for the travelling Rapid faithful, as Lucas Galvao nodded a goal bound header off the line with in the dying embers of the contest. The steel. One final dramatic scene remained, as Philipp Schobesberger nearly added a third on the break for Rapid, but after twisting and turning his final effort was blocked and cleared to safety.
In control for the majority of the match, Rapid had survived a breathless final half hour under intense pressure from a spirited LASK side. The three points were in the bag and returning with the team to the capital. Rapid had produced a workmanlike performance in Austria’s industrial city; but ultimately it was the addition of some sparkling Viennese flair and elegance that had won the day. Next up is a heavyweight dual with reigning champions RB Salzburg, a stern test of this emerging Rapid unit's credentials.
tipico Bundesliga, 15th round:
LASK - SK Rapid 1:2 (0:2)
Pasching, TGW-Arena, 5.962 Attendance, Ref Jäger
Goals: 0:1 Murg (25.), 0:2 Schwab (37.), 1:2 M. Berisha (68.);
LASK: Pervan - Ranftl, Trauner, Pogatetz, Ullmann - Goiginger (77. Reiter), Michorl (88. Ramsebner), Wiesinger, Bruno (57. Riemann) - M. Berisha, Gartler
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Auer, M. Hofmann, Galvao, Bolingoli - Petsos (74. Ljubicic), Schwab - Keles, Murg (77. Schobesberger), Ve. Berisha - Kvilitaia (69. Joelinton)
Yellow Cards: Wiesinger, Gartler; Kvilitaia, Galvao, Schobesberger