On the spot: Green & Whites see off St. Pölten
With the Austrian football authorities confirming their decision to close sections of the Allianz Stadium, the Block West and the north stand bore rows and rows of empty seats for the visit of Bundesliga strugglers SKN St. Pölten on Saturday. For this match, the atmosphere was being generated from the away stand, where the hardiest of Rapid fans had taken up temporary residence. An injured Joelinton and the suspended Dejan Ljubicic were both unavailable to Goran Djuricin, who drafted Manuel Thurnwald back into his favoured right-back slot. As Thomas Murg had made clear in Friday's press conference, the only thing that was on the minds of the Rapid squad was to seal the three points and secure a third victory on the bounce.
The Green & Whites quickly came out of the blocks, looking to get on the front foot and take advantage of the bottom club's brittle confidence, and it didn't take long for the pressure to tell: frantic defensive work from the visitors’ backline saw a clearance cannon off a St. Pölten shirt and set Kvilitaia through on goal. Away keeper Riegler flew of his line, rashly fouling the Georgian striker as he attempted to round the keeper - penalty Rapid. Kvilitaia took the kick himself, and with the aid of a bobble off the uneven playing surface, converted low to Riegler's right - 1:0 (6.)! A pattern of play had been established, with the deep sitting St. Pölten side struggling to contain a dominant Hütteldorfer eleven, for whom Thurnwald and Bolingoli were getting plenty of joy down the flanks. The next moment of danger arrived via the trickery of Louis Schaub, who evaded the attentions of his marker to drift an inviting cross into the box where it was met by Kvilitaia, who saw his decent headed effort saved by Riegler (26.). The final clear-cut chance of the half fell to captain Stefan Schwab, whose run was picked out by a pin-point long pass from Max Hofmann. Schwab, expertly controlled the ball but couldn’t find a way past the well-positioned St. Pölten keeper, who had done well to rush off his line and narrow the angle. Hence, Rapid went into the break leading by virtue of Kvilitaia's early penalty.
The second half began with Rapid slicing through their Lower Austrian opponents with an incisive passing move that ended with Thomas Murg lifting a glorious chance over the crossbar after he was found by Kvilitaia's cute back-heel (47.). The Green & Whites quickly re-asserted their dominance and looked for the comfort of a second goal, which nearly arrived when Max Hofmann broke free inside the St. Pölten box only to head Murg's cross over the bar (58.). When the second did finally arrive, it did so again via the penalty spot: a cross into the box struck defender Diallo's hand; referee Eisner was in no doubt and signalled immediately for a spot-kick. Stefan Schwab assumed responsibility and slotted the ball home in the bottom left corner, only for Eisner to order a re-take due to encroachment. Schwab again stepped up, and this time beat Riegler low into the right-hand corner - 2:0 and some valuable breathing space for Rapid (67.)! Minutes later, Murg had another superb chance to wrap up the points, but from close range couldn’t convert Schaub’s brilliant ball into the box (71.).
But out of the blue, the basement club – with newly appointed Rapid legend Didi Kühbauer in charge of his first game - sprang into life. A wicked, curling effort from distance from Schütz shaved the crossbar (74.), before they dragged themselves back into the game with fifteen minutes still to play as Vucenovic raced behind the Rapid defence to arrow an excellent finish past Strebinger and low into the far corner (75.). The goal seemed to unsettle a Rapid side seemingly in cruise control just minutes earlier. Indeed, the Hütteldorfers were fortunate to survive a double chance when firstly Vucenovic was denied by a good stop by Strebinger with his feet (77.). From the resulting corner Diallo beat the Rapid defence to the ball, but with Strebinger stranded, the big defender guided his header inches wide of an unguarded net (78.)! The final uncomfortable moment arrived in the game’s dying embers, when Strebinger had to hurriedly back pedal to tip a cross-come-shot from Rasner over the bar (87.).
The final whistle brought with it a sense of relief, as well as three points and a third straight victory. Next week, Rapid's resurgence will be put to the test in the next Vienna derby.
tipico Bundesliga, 29th round
SK Rapid - SKN St. Pölten 2:1 (1:0)
Allianz Stadion, 9.200 Attendance, Ref Eisner
Goals: 1:0 Kvilitaia (6., Elfmeter), 2:0 Schwab (67., Elfmeter), 2:1 Vucenovic (75.);
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Thurnwald, M. Hofmann, Galvao, Bolingoli - Petsos, Schwab - Schobesberger (63. Berisha), Murg (82. Kuen), Schaub (91. S. Hofmann) - Kvilitaia;
St. Pölten: Riegler - Stec, Huber, Diallo, Luan, Mehmedovic - Atanga, Rasner, Hofbauer, Schütz - Riski (46. Vucenovic);