Superb Strebinger helps Rapid hold on for victory
The season may only be young, but there was a sense of desperation around the Allianz Stadium already as Rapid entered match day three with just one point on the board. Didi Kühbauer stuck with his preferred 3-5-2 formation for the visit of the Vorarlbergers, but there were more new faces in the starting line up than just Richard Strebinger, who overcame the concussion he suffered on the opening night. Thorsten Schick was back on the right of the five man midfield, whilst Christoph Knasmüllner deputised in a more central role as captain Stefan Schwab was sidelined by a muscular injury. Centre back Christopher Dibon took the armband on his 150th appearance, a milestone also reached by Philipp Schobesberger, who started alongside Taxi Fountas up front, with Aliou Badji dropping to the bench.
New signing Koya Kitagawa was presented to the 12,800 fans ahead of kick off, but any disappointment at the Japanese striker being deemed not ready for this game was quickly forgotten. Maxi Ullmann linked up with Knasmüllner on the left early on, and once the ball was whipped into the area it found Thorsten Schick, who may have had a touch of fortune as he tapped it across for Fountas to fire home the opener (4.). In a blistering response, Altach hit the post themselves just seconds later; a warning sign of what was to come. As it was though, there was more for Rapid to celebrate first. This time there was no doubt about what Schick meant to do, as his slide-rule pass picked out Thomas Murg with room to run towards the right hand side of the area. He wisely looked up and squared to teammate Taxi Fountas, who only had to roll the ball home to double our lead (11.). What a start!
Rapid continued in the same vein, but it wasn't long until Altach began to exert pressure of their own, Mergim Berisha being denied by Strebinger, before Mert Müldür's header failed to clear a dangerous cross, leaving Christian Gebauer room to take a touch before finding the far corner of the net to breathe life into Alex Pastoor's away side (27.) Rapid created a couple of chances to re-establish the two goal cushion before the break, not least through Maxi Ullmann, who ghosted in at the back post to connect with a deep Philipp Schobesberger cross, but his close range volley found only the body of visiting keeper Martin Kobras (34.). The resulting corner was just as dangerous, with Fountas pulling the trigger in the middle of a melee. His blocked shot ricocheted out to Schobesberger, however his sweetly struck half volley fizzed narrowly wide of the target, and so the lead remained slender at half time.
Rapid came flying out of the blocks in the second 45, with Fountas agonisingly unable to complete his hat-trick as a close range finish was miscued straight at Kobras (46.), but once again Altach were able to turn the tide, and they unleashed a wave of pressure just before the hour mark. Strebinger was called into action once more to push Manfred Fischer's low shot past his left post, and from the short-corner, the same player could only hook a shot wide after being fed near the penalty spot (54.). It was a let-off for Rapid, and there was another on the way soon after, as Gebauer flashed a shot past the far post from the left of the area when he perhaps should have done better (56.).
Fountas had another chance to take home the match-ball when Schobesberger turned smartly and sent him away with a through pass up the middle, Kobras thwarting his effort once again (61.) Ullmann went close with an acrobatic volley from the ensuing corner (62.), but Altach remained determined to turn the game on its head. A free-kick from Berisha drew a top-class save from Strebinger, who had to react sharply to keep the ball out of the top left corner (66.), and once Manuel Martic was brought on, Rapid changed shape, aiming to strike on the break. Martic’s own daisy-cutting free kick didn't trouble the keeper (89.), but once Aliou Badji came on, he did pose the intended counter attacking threat. He looked like he had a point to prove as he raced clear with a well timed run, but his shot could only find the side-netting (90.) in a passage of play which kicked off a frenetic five minutes of injury time.
Badji again showed his athleticism to burst clear down the right, but much to the despair of the home fans, no penalty was given when he tumbled under a challenge from the Altach youngster Diakite (91.). The Vorarlbergers marched swiftly down the other end, and another Berisha shot needed a goal-line clearance from a well placed Martic (92.), before Fischer was spectacularly denied from inside the area by Strebinger (94.). There was still time for Frantz Pongop to have the home fans holding their breath, but Dibon's last-ditch challenge intervened (95.), and back up the other end, Schobesberger missed one final opportunity to kill the game off on the break (95.), before referee Dieter Muckenhammer brought the action to a close.
It was a narrow and at times nervy win, but together, the boys in green and white got us over the line and claimed a huge three points to kick start the Bundesliga campaign. Richard Strebinger said he was "just happy to come back and help the team", but most of the Hütteldorf faithful will hope that he doesn't need to help out quite so much when Rapid travel to Graz next weekend to take on SK Sturm (Kick off, Sunday 18th August, 17:00).
tipico Bundesliga, 3rd round:
SK Rapid - SCR Altach 2:1 (2:1)
Allianz Stadion, 12.800 Attendance, Ref Muckenhammer
Goals: 1:0 Fountas (4.), 2:0 Fountas (11.), 2:1 C. Gebauer (27.);
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Müldür, Dibon, M. Hofmann – Schick (67./Martic), Murg (88./Badji), Grahovac, Knasmüllner (72./Wunsch), Ullmann – Schobesberger, Fountas
SCR Altach: Kobras – Anderson (72./Casar), Thurnwald (88./Schreiner), Maak, Karic – Oum Gouet, Diakite – Meilinger, Fischer, C. Gebauer (79./Pangop) – Berisha
Yellow Cards: Grahovac; Maak, C. Gebauer