The Team Take Three Hard-Earned Points From Hartberg
Fresh from three wins in a row, Rapid headed down to Eastern Styria to face Hartberg, the plucky opponents with whom we have already shared some sensational encounters, including recent 3-3 and 2-2 draws, both with last second equalisers. Coach Didi Kühbauer was in no mood to underestimate Markus Schopp's side, especially with our injury list continuing to grow ever more concerning. Our stand-in keeper Tobias Knoflach pulled up in the pre-match warm-up, and so 23-year-old Paul Gartler made his debut in the Rapid first team after coming through the youth set-up with us for many years. At the back, the in-form Dejan Ljubicic was suspended after picking up a 5th yellow card of the season, and so we began with Filip Stojkovic, Leo Greiml, Max Hofmann and Max Ullmann making up a flexible back four, and Taxi Fountas on his own up-front in a 4-2-3-1.
It was Hartberg who came out of the blocks quickest, danger man Tadic found Gabbichler running into the area, and his sliding shot went past Gartler but came back off the post (1’). We were lucky not to be behind, but our injury luck got no better. A nasty clash of heads between Kainz and Kelvin Arase (10’) meant that we were forced into an early change - Koya Kitagawa came on, the scorer from Sunday's win. Thankfully Arase was able to watch on from the sidelines, and despite a volley from Hartberg’s Heil sailing wide (14’) Rapid were growing into the game with every minute. Dejan Petrovic eventually found room on the right, and delivered a teasing cross for Fountas, whose volley squeezed perfectly past keeper Swete and into the bottom corner for 1-0 (24’)! Our first shot, and the Green and Whites had the lead!
The first half then settled down, with both teams struggling to create clear-cut chances on goal, although Greiml nearly doubled the advantage on the stroke of half time, heading Schick's corner across the face of goal (44’). So 1-0 it stood at the break, and Rapid would have to use the second half to go in search of more goals.
In a much more attacking display, we pushed on with Christoph Knasmüllner running through before being denied by a low stop from Swete (53’). Kitagawa then let a chance run away from his boot in the box (56’), with Petrovic lashing a volley just wide of the upright moments after (57’). Around the hour mark, Srdjan Grahovac and the lively Yusuf Demir were brought on in an effort to kill-off the tie, especially important knowing the likelihood of a late goal in any game between Rapid and Hartberg!
Fountas, despite having scored his 17th of the season, was the next Rapid player who couldn't complete the game. He was replaced by Ercan Kara, scorer of the last late goal against Hartberg on this ground. Soon after his introduction, Kara had a big chance for 2-0. Kitagawa first attempted to square a ball across the area for him, but it was cleared (69’), but not long later the situation repeated itself on the other side. Kitagawa controlled well and cut back neatly in the box and this time fed the ball to Kara, but the shot was agonisingly off-target (76’).
With the scoreline still at just 1-0, Rapid were dominating, but there were nerves in the air as we knew a second goal was missing. The returning Stefan Schwab tried to lift the mood with a powerful run down the left, beating his markers before driving a low shot in at the near post. Once more, Swete made the stop (77’) and the decisive goal couldn't be found. In the midfield, Demir was making a nuisance of himself and causing problems for the home side, he might have even won a penalty after a push from Cancola, but nothing was given.
With chances adding up, Swete made another low stop from a long shot, and had to save a header from a corner as well, before Hartberg inevitably threw everything at us to try and equalise. Dante had a go from the left of the area but Gartler got down to cover it, before more tricky play from Demir saw Schick run clear on goal. With legs starting to tire, Swete was able to save Hartberg from the one on one yet again (87’), meaning the hosts still had a chance in injury time. With their last throw of the dice, a dangerous low cross fizzed across Gartler's goal, and there was Tadic waiting to tap in for 1-1, except Leo Greiml threw himself in the way to clear at the last moment (90’+2) and Rapid hung on for another win!
Whilst four wins in succession meant we headed home happy, Rapid will be more concerned about the number of injured players before we meet Hartberg again at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday. Let’s make it 5!
Photos: GEPA Pictures, SK Rapid.
Bundesliga, 27th Runde:
TSV Hartberg - SK Rapid 0:1 (0:1)
Profertil Arena, Ref Jäger
Goal: 0:1 Fountas (24.)
Hartberg: Swete – Heil (63./Lienhart), Huber, Luckeneder, Klem – Kainz (73./Dante), Cancola (87./Tschernegg) – Ried (88./Kröpfl), Rep (46./Dossou), Gabbichler – Tadic
SK Rapid: Gartler – Stojkovic, Greiml, Hofmann, Ullmann – Petrovic (59./Grahovac), Schwab – Schick, Knasmüllner (59./Demir), Arase (14./Kitagawa) – Fountas (68./Kara)
Yellow Cards: Heil, Lienhart; Greiml, Schick, Kitagawa