Vital victory away to Linz
On Saturday, Rapid travelled to Upper Austria to take on in-form LASK. Oliver Glasner's side have refused to buckle in the race for third place, having won their previous seven straight league encounters. The Hütteldorfers knew that only a win would be good enough, and would see them re-take third place from LASK, who have been enjoying a fantastic season on their return to top-flight football.
Goran Djuricin was looking for a reaction from his troops to the disappointment suffered at the hands of Sturm last time out, but in his quest for the three points he was shorn of defensive options: Centre-back Galvao missed out having failed to recover sufficiently from injury, whilst Max Hofmann was absent through suspension. Dejan Ljubicic was therefore asked to perform the role of makeshift centre-half, with Thanos Petsos coming in to marshal defensive midfield. At the top of the pitch, Philipp Schobesberger got the nod over Louis Schaub.
This was always going to be a difficult test, and from kick-off Linz displayed the confidence and ability that had served them well in recent months. Chances and half chances came and went for LASK, who despite all their territorial dominance in the opening stages, never looked like finding a way past the in-form Richard Strebinger. The patched-up defence were lacking familiarity and understanding, and were having difficulty coping with the fluid movement of the Linz forwards. After the match, Goran Djuricin explained that the idea was to remain compact and offer support to the makeshift defence. And indeed, the Black & Whites were invited onto the Hütteldorfers, who were struggling to create under the weight of deeper midfield positioning and extra defensive responsibility. When they did manage to get a shot off it was spectacular: in the 28th minute Thanos Petsos finally found some room in the LASK half, and unleashed a thunderous drive from distance; the ball swerved and weaved, beating Linz keeper Pervan but crashed into the crossbar rather than the back of the net.
The Rapid bench sought to change things up a little, with full-backs Thurnwald and Auer switching flanks. It was a move that would pay huge dividends on the stroke of half-time: a sweeping passing move worked the ball to the left edge of the hosts' penalty area and to Manuel Thurnwald, who fired a low ball into the mix. Thomas Murg cutely stepped over the ball, allowing it to run to Kvilitaia, who beat Pervan with a low finish - 1:0 and Rapid had fully capitalised on their first chance after soaking up pressure. At half-time things were clearly going to plan.
With 600 travelling fans at their back, Rapid picked up where they left off, looking to remain compact and hit Linz on the break. The second half proved tougher going for the Upper Austrians, who failed to create as much as they did during the first period. And when they did get a sight of goal they still couldn’t find a way past the solid Strebinger. At the other end of the field, Kvilitaia had the chance to give his side breathing space, but was denied by an excellent one-handed stop by Pervan when through on goal (67.). As the game wore on Linz attempted to increase the pressure, but their attacks became more hurried and desperate in the face of continued Hütteldorfer defiance. Their task was made all the harder when Pogatetz departed after collecting two yellow cards within minutes on each other for crudely blocking off Murg and then substitute Schaub to deny Rapid counter attacking opportunities. With the home side throwing everything forwards and being a man light, Rapid eventually made them pay with another clinical move: the ball swept quickly forwards to the advanced Andi Kuen, who made his way into the area before producing an ice-cool finish low across the Linz keeper and into the far corner - 2:0, game over, job done (90.)!
The final whistle signified a tremendous win in difficult circumstances for Rapid, who climb above LASK and back into third in the Bundesliga table. The fixtures don't get any easier for the Green & Whites: up next is the visit of champions and Europa League semi-finalists RB Salzburg. Rapid will need to be playing to the peak of their powers to get the win and continue the march to third. Rapid!!
tipico Bundesliga, 33rd round:
LASK - SK Rapid 0:2 (0:1)
TGW Arena, 6009 Attendance, Ref Eisner
Goals: 0:1 Kvilitaia (41.), 0:2 Kuen (90.)
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Thurnwald, Sonnleitner, Ljubicic, Auer - Petsos, Schwab - Berisha, Schobesberger (69. Schaub), Murg (90. Mujakic) - Kvilitaia (87. Kuen)
LASK: Pervan - Ranftl, Ramsebner, Trauner, Pogatetz (81. Gartler), Ullmann - Goiginger (68. Rep), Holland (90. Lima Carius), Michorl - Tetteh, Santos Sa
Yellow Cards: Pogatetz; Ljubicic, Kvilitaia, Auer;