More woe in Styria
Sunday's top of the table clash against Sturm Graz took place against a perfect footballing backdrop of early summer weather and a sold out Merkur Arena. With the support of a packed away end, Rapid were looking to gain quick revenge for last week's cup exit at the hands of the same opponent. Trainer Goran Djuricin had to make do without the services of injured defensive duo Boli Bolingoli and Lucas Galvao, with Stephan Auer and Mario Sonnleitner coming in at left back and centre back respectively. Otherwise, there were no other changes to the team that had taken to the field last time out.
Rather than make a positive start though, the Hütteldorfers found themselves playing catch up almost from the kick-off: A chipped ball into Strebinger's box found ex-Rapid man Deni Alar, who rolled a simple square ball to Eze to slot a straight forward finish into the unguarded net - 0:1 (3.). A rifled effort from the edge of the box from the in-form Thomas Murg nearly mustered an instant reply for the Green & Whites (7.), before Veton Berisha passed up a further opportunity, seemingly caught in two minds when presented with a good shooting chance (13.). As it had done in the cup match, this game between two Bundesliga heavyweights again swung end-to-end, with both sides looking capable of landing heavy punches. But for all the good football on show, it was the most traditional of methods that led to Sturm doubling their advantage, when Eze rose above Sonnleitner in the box to head a corner beyond Strebinger and into the back of the net - 0:2 (27.).
Rapid took a while to recover from the blow, seeking to hang on in the match as they struggled to influence the game as an attacking force for a while. But hang on they did, and grabbed rewards for their hitherto good football and doggedness: A beautiful whipped cross from Murg picked out Kvilitaia, who guided a stylish header past Siebenhandl in the Graz goal to drag the Green & Whites back into contention at the break - 1:2 (40.).
The Rapid bench sent the players out with a fresh set of instructions for the start of the second period, with the Green & Whites looking to gain the territorial advantage, press Sturm high up the pitch and move the game further away from their own goal. Despite the tactical switch, the Hütteldorfers struggled to create clear cut chances when confronted with an organised and compact home defence. At the other end of the field, Rapid didn't give the same impression of defensive stability as their hosts, and just after the hour mark their rearguard was punctured again when Zulj stole in behind a high line, latched on to a long pass and cheekily lifted the ball over a poorly positioned Strebinger to restore his side's two-goal advantage - 1:3 (62.). Things got worse just ten minutes later, when a break down in play involving Schwab and Max Hofmann presented Jeggo with an opportunity which he gladly accepted, giving Strebinger no chance with a powerful low drive into the far corner - 1:4 (72.).
There was one final bright spot though for the travelling Rapid faithful, as from a corner, Murg struck a delicious first time shot with his left foot, that bent and swerved its way into the top corner from the edge of the box - 2:4 (75.). Whilst unlikely to herald a genuine comeback, the goal was a real moment of genius from Murg. Kujakic and Schaub did have opportunities to try and make the game interesting in the closing stages, but efforts from both players lacked conviction and failed to beat Siebenhandl.
The final whistle went and brought an end to Rapid's winning streak. Graz had proved a tough, sapping venue over the past week. With LASK winning in Altach, Rapid take on the Upper Austrian side next in a head to head shoot out with one objective in mind: to take back third place!
tipico Bundesliga, 32nd round:
SK Sturm - SK Rapid 4:2 (2:1)
Merkur-Arena, 14.500 Attendance, Ref Schüttengruber
Goals: 1:0 Eze (3.), 2:0 Eze (27.), 2:1 Kvilitaia (40.), 3:1 Zulj (62.), 4:1 Jeggo (72.), 4:2 Murg (75.);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Thurnwald, M. Hofmann, Sonnleitner, Auer - Ljubicic, Schwab - Schaub (71. Mujakic), Murg, Ve. Berisha (45. Schobesberger) - Kvilitaia;
SK Sturm: Siebenhandl - Koch, Spendlhofer, Maresic - Hierländer, Zulj, Jeggo, Potzmann, Röcher (73. Lovric) - Eze (78. Schubert), Alar (88. Schoissengeyr);
Yellow Card: Max Hofmann;