Rapid grind out away win in Graz
They say that getting the three points is all that matters in football, but after Rapid's win on match day 3 was a little too close for comfort, there were certainly some mixed emotions for those in Green and White.
Fast forward a week from that first win, and Rapid travelled away to Sturm, always a tough test of character. Lucky then, that captain Stefan Schwab was welcomed back into the starting XI after missing the win over Altach with a muscular injury, Dejan Ljubicic also returned from a long lay-off to take a place on the bench, and next to him Koya Kitagawa was named in a match day squad by coach Kühbauer for the first time.
With temperatures over 30 degrees and barely a cloud in the Styrian sky, the heat was always likely to be a factor in the tempo of the match, but add in a pitch in decidedly dodgy condition, and a slick passing game was almost out of the question. It was perhaps little surprise then, that the first half turned into an ill-tempered affair punctuated by stoppages and injuries. As the red away shirts of Rapid were not able to build up any flow, the game's first moment of note was when Dejan Ljubicic's comeback was completed earlier than planned. He replaced Srdjan Grahovac after the Bosnian midfielder picked up a knock (20.), and just moments later he was celebrating with the rest of the team, as Stefan Schwab snuck into space to convert Thomas Murg's left-wing free kick with a close range volley crashing in off the right-hand upright for 1-0 (23.).
With the ball bobbling all over the pitch, there were no other real chances created by either side in the remainder of the first half, with Max Ullmann's shot well off target (35.) and a Mert Müldür header over the bar (43.) being the closest we came to adding to the tally.
The second half was to follow a similar pattern, and after Richard Strebinger sprang into action to punch a dangerous loose ball clear from between two Sturm attackers (50.), another injury forced a change of Rapid personnel. Defender Dibon was caught in the face in one of the game's many bruising battles, and his cut was bad enough to see him taken off for Mateo Barac (54.). Again, following the change, Rapid restarted well, with Philipp Schobesberger jinking left and right on the break, before unleashing a driven shot which cannoned back off the Sturm crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten (56.).
The game then tightened up once more, and despite Aliou Badji coming on to play as a target man (69.). Rapid attacks were few and far between, and most of the intensity was coming from the 14,500 vociferous fans inside the Merkur Arena rather than the 22 players on the pitch. Those very fans had filled the stadium with smoke by the time Sturm started to pose more of a threat, and almost unseen by the crowd, Michael John Lema hit the post from close range (78.), after which Rapid began to play it safe and close off spaces for Sturm.
For the most part, it was an effective job from the boys in red, and Sturm were restricted to just a handful of glimpses at goal. While Otar Kiteishvili didn’t test our keeper with a free kick from the edge of the area (84.), Strebinger had to stay alert right to the death, as Bekim Balaj's header needed to be acrobatically tipped over the bar (96.) to secure a hard fought away win for Rapid, and those all important three points!
After an efficient display and a satisfying second consecutive win, we'll welcome LASK to the Allianz Stadion on the 24th August at 17:00 for match day five of the Bundesliga season.
tipico Bundesliga, 4th round:
SK Sturm Graz - SK Rapid 0:1 (0:1)
Merkur Arena, 14.532 Attendance, Ref Drachta
Goal: 0:1 Schwab (23.);
SK Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl – Sakic, Spendlhofer, Avlonitis, Schrammel – C. Leitgeb (66. Ljubic), Dominguez – Huspek (78. Pink), Kiteishvili, Jantscher (66. Lema) – Balaj
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Müldür, Dibon (53. Barac), Hofmann – Schick (69. Badji), Grahovac (22. Ljubicic), Schwab, Murg, Ullmann – Schobesberger, Fountas
Yellow Card: Kiteishvili