Rapid denied first win as St. Pölten strike back twice
Didi Kühbauer led the team back to St. Pölten’s NV Arena on Sunday looking to get some Bundesliga points on the board sooner rather than later, in response to the opening day defeat at the hands of Salzburg: That loss had cost more than just points though, with Richi Strebinger suffering a nasty concussion. Strebinger had returned to training on Friday, but Tobias Knoflach was seen as the preferred starter between the sticks this time, with a cautious recovery program planned for the more established keeper. Elsewhere Leo Greiml made his second league appearance at the back of the 3-5-2, whilst Thomas Murg clocked up his 100th game day in green and white. Thorsten Schick missed out on a midfield place with niggling injuries, and had to make do with a seat in the stands alongside new boy Koya Kitagawa, who is still awaiting the completion of some paperwork before he takes to the field. Kühbauer made it clear before kick-off that he wanted Rapid to "do whatever it takes to win", and after a 4-0 victory last time the two sides met here, confidence was rightfully high.
After starting the game with the intention of putting the pressure on, Stefan Schwab registered the opening shot on goal with a free-kick from range being tipped over the bar by home keeper Riegler (9.), and after a decisive drive forward and lay-off by Srdjan Grahovac, a smart turn and shot from Taxi Fountas ended up over the bar (21.). Haas had half a chance inside the area for St. Pölten (25.), but after that things settled down a little until shortly before the break.
Then, in a frantic few minutes, Max Ullmann aimed for the far post, but his shot found the wrong side of the woodwork (38.), only for a quick-footed Fountas to latch onto a loose back-pass just seconds later. The former St. Pölten striker made no mistake against his old employers, clipping the ball confidently past the advancing Riegler to give Rapid the lead (39.). Unfortunately, his muted celebrations were echoed moments later by St. Pölten's Robert Ljubicic (brother of our very own injured midfielder Dejan Ljubicic), who fired in a crisp half-volley from the edge of the area after a corner was cleared by Aliou Badji right onto his laces (43.).
During the break, Philipp Schobesberger replaced Badji in attack, and it took him almost no time at all to make his mark, some fleet footwork on the left wing earning him space to pick out Mert Müldür with a cross. Müldür hadn't scored a Bundesliga goal before, not that anyone would have guessed as he pivoted perfectly to flick a near-post header across the goal and into the far corner (47.) to make it 2-1 to Rapid!
The 7,600 fans in attendance saw the green and whites dominate for long periods, but as the minutes ticked by the game became more open, and more combative, too. Maxi Hofmann was probably pleased to see only yellow after a full-blooded challenge halted Daniel Luxbacher's advance (63.), and Manuel Haas could count himself lucky too, after his boot found more of Leo Greiml’s left shin than the ball (65.). The hosts showed no signs of giving up though, and it was another corner that proved our undoing in the end. Yet again, a half clearance invited a quick shot from outside the area, this time a miscued effort which worked its way through to Luan, who had only to prod the ball past Knoflach to level things up at 2-2 (69.).
In the latter stages, another of Kühbauer's changes almost proved the catalyst for Rapid to hit the front once again, but when Thomas Murg's lofted free-kick found the head of the newly introduced Christoph Knasmüllner, he elected to put it across the goal with nobody waiting, rather than go for the target himself (78.). Max Ullmann also had an effort which managed to agonisingly elude everyone in an away shirt (88.), but Rapid kept up the fight until the very end. There was still time for Schobesberger to get in behind and bring a route-one pass under control nicely, but although his shot was carefully lofted over the onrushing goalkeeper, it also ended up wide of the target (89.), and when Christopher Dibon's late header was deflected over, that was that.
A 2-2 draw; our first goals of the season, the first point earned as well, but nonetheless a lingering feeling of disappointment after a strong showing which could have yielded more. Our attention now turns to next Saturday, when we'll host SCR Altach in Hütteldorf on match day 3.
tipico Bundesliga, 2nd round:
SKN St. Pölten - SK Rapid 2:2 (1:1)
NV Arena, 7.582 Attendance, Ref Jäger
Goals: 0:1 Fountas (39.), 1:1 R. Ljubicic (43.), 1:2 Müldür (47.), 2:2 Luan (69.);
SKN St. Pölten: Riegler – Ingolitsch (51./Ambichl), Luan, Drescher, Meisl – Rasner (75./Petrovic), Luxbacher, R. Ljubicic, M. Haas – Riski (85./Davies), Balic
SK Rapid: Knoflach – Greiml (75./Auer), Dibon, Hofmann – Müldür, Murg, Grahovac, Schwab, Ullmann – Fountas (70./Knasmüllner), Badji (46./Schobesberger)
Yellow Cards: Ingolitsch, Rasner, Haas; Hofmann, Grahovac, Schwab, Müldür