Five Subs Still Not Enough in Defeat to Salzburg
The restart of the Bundesliga for the Championship Round this week was a cause for celebration, even if it goes against all our instincts to play games without the support of our loyal fans. But as soon as the fixture list was revealed, it was clear that Rapid would have a huge task on their hands for the opening match day. A journey west to league leaders Salzburg is what awaited coach Didi Kühbauer and his squad, and although we have struggled to win in Salzburg in recent years, Rapid are always ready to face a challenge head on, and starting the day just 4 points off the top was motivation enough for anyone!
With Philip Schobesberger still sidelined with an injury, the Green and Whites started with a line up familiar to the games back in Spring; only captain Stefan Schwab's more advanced attacking role raised some eyebrows on the tactical side. Further up-field was top-scorer Taxi Fountas, and in the centre the two Dejans - Petrovic and Ljubicic got the nod to go from the outset.
With games coming thick and fast in the Championship Round, the coach had warned of injuries playing a part in the season, but nonetheless nobody expected to see defender Christopher Dibon stretchered off with an unfortunate ACL injury after just a couple of minutes, to be replaced by Mario Sonnleitner (5’). In the early phases, Salzburg looked much the sharper side, feeling the benefit of match-fitness from the cup final, and they kept our players under constant pressure in possession.
With no clear outlet, Dejan Ljubicic hit a long ball across the midfield which fell straight to opposition feet. Ulmer lofted a pass towards Daka in the area, and his header looped over Richard Strebinger and into an empty net for 1-0 (9’). A tough task had just got even harder, but Rapid roared back; Kelvin Arase's driven low-cross found Fountas, who forced a strong stop at Stankovic’s near-post (11’), before Max Hofmann’s header beat the Salzburg stopper, who was lucky to be saved by an offside flag against Schwab (16’). Rapid were so close to levelling up at 1-1, but their momentum was stalled by events soon after.
Another quick Salzburg turnover gave Hwang a chance to bear down on goal, before being denied by a brilliant last-ditch Sonnleitner tackle. It appeared to have consequences though, with the replacement having to go off injured himself after just 27 minutes, Grahovac the man to come in. Richi Strebinger then had to stay alert to keep out an acrobatic Junuzovic volley (28’), before Ramalho blocked-off Schwab just before he could shoot from a dangerous position (36’), so it remained 1-0 at the interval. It had been a bruising first 45 (or 50 after injury time), but Rapid were still well in touch.
Taxi Fountas made a battling run towards the area early in the second period, but he too failed to find a way through Ramalho (50’), before Salzburg began to turn the tide of the game. A header from Hwang drew an impressive diving save from Strebinger (54’), and then Stojkovic was penalised for a hard challenge on the edge of the Rapid box. Szoboszlai’s set-piece strike came back of the post (56’), and after Vallci missed a header from close range for the hosts (63’) Rapid needed some fresh ideas.
Coach Kühbauer made a bold move in an effort to close that narrow one-goal gap, using up all three remaining subs in a triple-play which saw Koya Kitagawa, Thomas Murg and Thorsten Schick come on to boost the attack (72’). Disaster struck just seconds later, Murg having to depart injured (73’), leaving the Green and Whites to battle on with ten men. Those on the bench (and the two ever-present Rapid supporters) did mark the last quarter-hour with some clapping, but Salzburg were in control with the extra man, and Hwang fired wide when he could have doubled the lead (77’), then Adeyemi had a finish ruled out for offside (78’). Schick tried his best to create some chances from the right flank, but Rapid were ever more isolated up-front, and when Adeyemi provided an assist for Okafor to slide in a second goal from near the six-yard line (90’), the tie was all over.
2-0 is how it ended: Perhaps a fair result overall, but one with more than a fair share of misfortune for Rapid. Kühbauer said after the game that the loss of so many key players might end up being more painful than the defeat itself, but whoever is fit, Rapid will give it their all to pick up three points on Sunday against Sturm Graz at an empty Allianz Stadium.
RB Salzburg - SK Rapid 2:0 (1:0)
Wals-Siezenheim, RB Arena, Ref Eisner.
Goals: 1:0 Daka (9.), 2:0 Okafor (91.);
RB Salzburg: Stankovic – Vallci, Ramalho, Wöber, Ulmer – Junuzovic, Ashimeru (59./Onguene), Mwepu, Szoboszlai – Daka (68./Adeyemi), Hwang (83./Okafor);
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Stojkovic, Dibon (7. Sonnleitner/27. Grahovac), Hofmann – Arase (72. Schick), Petrovic, Ljubicic, Schwab, Ullmann – Knasmüllner (72. Murg), Fountas (72. Kitagawa);
Yellow Cards: Hwang; Stojkovic