Points shared in Graz
Having prevailed in Thursday's energy sapping match in Bucharest, Rapid's head Trainer Goran Djuricin made it clear that rotation would again be key to taking points from a tricky trip to Graz on Sunday. Rather than make wholesale changes, Veton Berisha came in for Andrei Ivan in left midfield, whilst Max Hofmann came in at centre back to replace Mateo Barac, who was struggling with a knock. Mert Müldür celebrated his recent call-up to the Turkish A side by continuing at right-back in what was a landmark 50th match at the helm for Djuricin.
Rapid got off to a lively start and registered the first attempt on goal: A free kick from Christoph Knasmüllner found its way to captain Stefan Schwab, who caught the ball flush on the half volley and rattled the frame of the Sturm goal (7.). Having come within the width of the crossbar of taking the lead, the Green & Whites retreated somewhat, remaining compact and challenging hosts Sturm to force the issue. It was an invitation that the Styrians struggled to accept, with Graz's laboured approach doing little to unsettle a steady and organised Rapid defence. All signs pointed towards a goalless first half, but as the match edged towards the break the deadlock was controversially broken: Max Hofmann felled ex-Rapid man Huspek in a sprint towards his own goal, but did so clearly outside of the box. The referee over-excitedly pointed to the spot and awarded a penalty, much to the disbelief of the Rapid players. Zulj gave Richard Strebinger no chance, thumping home an unstoppable shot from 12 yards to give Sturm a highly dubious advantage - 1:0 (37.). Things nearly got worse for the Hütteldorfers when Huspek then danced through the Rapid defence before firing a shot against the inside of the post (41.). The half time whistle probably came at a good time for a Green & White eleven that were losing their cool after defending so comfortably for the majority of the half.
Both sides began the second forty-five with the same personnel that finished the first, and the pattern of the game also remained largely unchanged. Strebinger saved from Lackner (47.) and Kviteshvili (52.), but neither shot looked likely to trouble the Rapid keeper. It took until the hour mark for the Green & Whites to carve out their next opportunity, but when they did they should've equalised: Knasmüllner played in Deni Alar with a cute one-two, only for Alar - back on his old stomping ground - to guide his shot over the bar from close range (60.). Stephan Auer was then introduced for an injured Max Hofmann, whilst Andrei Ivan was thrown on in place of Berisha to try and create added attacking impetus. Thomas Murg lifted a free kick from a dangerous position over the bar (72.), before a good low cross from Ivan didn't find any takers.
The half-chances spurred on Rapid, who began building up a head of steam. When they did finally create a golden chance and level, it no longer came as a surprise: another glorious ball from Knasmüllner played in Deni Alar, who this time made no mistake as he lashed the ball into the net against his ex-emloyers to salvage the afternoon for Rapid - 1:1 (78.)! After battling back into the game, all the Hütteldorfers' good work was nearly instantly undone: Spendelhofer got on the end of a cross, beating Strebinger with a well-improvised backheel, but Stefan Schwab was on hand to scramble the ball off the line and away to safety (85.). And right at the death Rapid nearly snatched all three points, but Murg's shot went agonisingly wide of the far post (92.). The game finished 1:1, an excellent return at a difficult venue, particularly on the back of getting a crucial result in Bucharest. The players will now look forward to the international break and an opportunity to recover after a hectic few weeks.
tipico Bundesliga, 6th round:
SK Sturm Graz - SK Rapid 1:1 (1:0)
Merkur Arena, 14.487, Ref Schüttengruber
Goals: 1:0 Zulj (37./Penalty), 1:1 Alar (78.);
SK Sturm: Siebenhandl - Spendlhofer, Avlonitis, Maresic - Koch, Lackner, P. Zulj, Hierländer - Kiteishvili - P. Huspek (81. Eze), Grozurek (87. Pink)
SK Rapid: Strebinger - Müldür, Sonnleitner, Hofmann (60. Auer), Potzmann - D. Ljubicic, Schwab - Murg, Knasmüllner, Berisha (64. Ivan) - Alar
Yellow Cards: Maresic; Schwab, Auer