Open encounter yields only a point for the Hütteldorfers
Shortly before the start of Rapid's 100th home match against Sturm Graz, a respectful silence enveloped the Allianz Stadium: during the night, long-time Sturm and Bundesliga President Hans Rinner passed away after a long battle with severe illness. After the impeccably observed silence, 22,200 fans - including 1500 travelling Styrians - turned their attention to the sporting contest at hand and would’ve noticed some changes to the Hütteldorfer match day squad: Boli Bolingoli was back for the Green & Whites, whilst Manuel Thurnwald was fit enough for a place on the bench following injury lay-off. The game got underway with the home crowd baying for a reaction after last week's disappointing reverse in Mödling.
And in the opening phases, it appeared as though Rapid would deliver that which the crowd demanded. Thomas Murg came within inches of opening the scoring when he bent the ball beyond Sturm keeper Siebenhandl, only for his curling effort to cannon back off the inside of the far post (7.). At the other end, Sturm pounced upon loose possession play by Rapid in their own defensive third, as Lovric played in ex-Rapid man Deni Alar, who was denied by a fine stop by Richard Strebinger (9.). In an end-to-end encounter, Murg then again went close, poking wide of the target under pressure from the onrushing Siebenhandl (16.). More slack play from Rapid in the defensive third presented Sturm with another opportunity, upon which they this time capitalised: a poor ball from Strebinger could only find a Graz shirt; the guests quickly whipped the ball into the box where Röcher and Alar played a deft one-two, before Röcher finished with aplomb into the roof of the net - 0:1 (20.).
The goal shook Rapid, and for a long while the Hütteldorfers struggled to regain their composure and defensive stability. Indecision at the back almost cost Rapid once more just minutes later, as another turnover in possession left Sturm baring down on Strebinger's goal in a four-on-one situation. The ball was at the feet of Hierlander, who managed to get his angles all wrong, over hitting a simple pass to Deni Alar who would've tapped home into an empty net (28.). A real let off. The game swung one way then the other, and just minutes later, Philipp Schobesberger spurned a glorious chance to level matters: another turn over in possession led to an inch perfect ball being slid through to Schobesberger, who attempted to feint and beat Siebenhandl at his near post; the Graz keeper read the Rapid man's intentions, and made a smart stop to preserve his side's advantage (32.). The chance was Rapid’s last of a breathless first half which drew to an end with the visitors a goal to the good.
Tamas Szanto came on in place of Thanos Petsos at the beginning of the second period, but initially the change had little impact. The Green & Whites struggled to win the midfield battle, and their attempts to find their rhythm were often interrupted by Graz gamesmanship. It took until the 65th for the next noteworthy attempt to arrive, and when it did, it came via the boot of a Graz player. Yet another breakdown in play was seized upon by the Styrians, this time through Zulj, who audaciously attempted to chip the ball over Strebinger from just inside his own half. It was a spectacular effort that had the worried Rapid custodian back peddling, but the ball eventually landed on the roof of the net. As Rapid pressed forward, Graz handled the situation with nous, constantly looking threatening on the break - but they couldn't land the killer blow.
The heavens opened and sleet pelted down on the Allianz Stadium’s turf as the match entered its final throes. A hammered effort from Szanto looked like it might provide salvation, but crashed down on top of the crossbar (83.). Still, Rapid pushed, and the hitherto solid looking guests dropped deep into their own box and began to lose their shape for the first time in the match. With the clock ticking down Joelinton drew an expert save from Siebenhandl on the turn, as the home fans sensed a goal was in the offing (86.). And then it arrived: a cut back from the bi-line to the edge of the area picked out the advanced Boli Bolingoli, who lashed a ferocious shot into the top corner - 1:1 and a fantastic strike from the Belgian that was still rising as it hit the roof of the net (88.)!
Was there time for one last charge from the Hütteldorfers? Unfortunately not. In fact, all of Rapid’s hard work was nearly undone deep into injury time, when ping pong on the edge of the Green & Whites’ box saw the ball fall to the feet of Zulj, who had found himself in space on the penalty spot. The Sturm man struck a powerful shot goalwards, but was denied by an acrobtic stop from Strebinger, who got a hand to the ball and watched as the it bounced into the ground and over the crossbar! A dramatic end to a pulsating match. Next week we welcome LASK to Hütteldorf, in a game where only three points will do as Rapid look to kick-start their season following a hitherto stumbling opening to 2018.
tipico Bundesliga, 23rd round:
SK Rapid - SK Sturm 1:1 (0:1)
Allianz Stadion, 20.200 Attendance, Ref Drachta
Goals: 0:1 (20.) Röcher, 1:1 (88.) Bolingoli;
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Auer, M. Hofmann, Galvao, Bolingoli - Ljubicic, Petsos (55./ Szanto) - Murg, Joelinton, Ve. Berisha (62./Kvilitaia) - Schobesberger;
SK Sturm: Siebenhandl - Koch, Spendlhofer (84./Schoissengeyr), Maresic, Schulz, Schrammel - Hierländer, Lovric (71./Potzmann), Zulj, Röcher (76./Jantscher) - Alar;
Yellow Cards: Galvao, Petsos, Joelinton; Schrammel, Spendlhofer, Koch;