Rapid hit four to blow away Sturm
With the weather forecast predicting a storm would hit Vienna on Sunday evening, there was an ominous gathering of clouds overhead as Rapid returned to the Allianz Stadium for their first home game since the break. Given the weather, Sturm Graz were perhaps the appropriate opponents, with both teams looking to bounce back from defeats on match day 23.
Coach Didi Kühbauer was already contending with a long injury list after the last game, so losing out on Richard Strebinger to back problems before kick-off was just another headache. Tobias Knoflach stood-in between the posts, and the youngster Leo Greiml got a chance to patch things up in the defence, with Sonnleitner and Dibon both out injured.
With the game underway, a flat opening phase from both teams hinted at the absence of atmosphere, hardly surprising with over 20,000 passionate supporters missing from the occasion. Nonetheless, the game did come to life, and happily for the Green and Whites it was our opener which got things going. A clearance from Sturm keeper Siebenhandl landed straight on the head of Thorsten Schick, who nodded to Taxi Fountas to set up a quick counter. Fountas fed the ball forward and with the keeper still stranded on the edge of the box, Kelvin Arase had a simple task to slot in for 1-0 (25’)!
Moments later, it could have been more, Arase this time hitting a low cross from the left which ended up at the feet of Christoph Knasmüllner, who could only fire over the crossbar. The lead was doubled soon after anyway, when a corner kick from the Rapid left was flicked up into the air; Fountas brought the high ball down right into the path of Arase, who fired a snapshot in at the near post for a brilliant second goal (28’)! As the first half settled down from that quick-fire double, Knasmüllner was denied by a diving Siebenhandl, and then a rebound from a Fountas effort fell to the number 28 once more, but again he shot over the woodwork when a third goal looked likely (40’). Still, 2-0 at the break left Rapid looking in command.
Surprisingly to some, Coach Kühbauer removed scorer Arase at half-time, thinking of the bigger picture and the busy fixture list ahead. Koya Kitagawa came on in his place, still searching for a first Bundesliga goal in Green and White. He didn't have to wait long for a chance, bursting free for a one-on-one but finding his shot well blocked by the Sturm keeper (46’) before an almost identical chance fell to Despodov at the other end (47’). Greiml came hurtling back from a great distance to surprise the Bulgarian, allowing Knoflach to gather the ball and preserve the lead.
Kitagawa was still looking dangerous in attack, and after a smart pass from Ullmann, a turn and shot from the Japanese striker was well defended (56’), but Rapid kept pushing and looking for a third as the storm clouds rolled ever closer. A pinpoint pass from substitute Dejan Petrovic was the key to the next goal, his long ball found Fountas at the back post, and once Siebenhandl bundled him to the ground Stefan Schwab stepped up to slam home the resulting penalty into the top corner (70’). 3-0 and the boys were looking good for the win! More rotations came from the coach, with Stephan Auer, Srdjan Grahovac and Yusuf Demir getting a chance to stretch their legs.
The 17 year old Demir was the one to make the biggest mark on the match, first by displaying his confidence with a shot at the near post when team-mates were available in the middle, and then by making amends for failing to pass that one just seconds later, when he squared a ball to Fountas who tapped home the fourth from close range (78’)! With that, Demir had an assist to his name, and Fountas had now been involved in all four goals! How’s that for an evening’s work?!
Before the end, Huspek fired off target for a dejected Sturm (84’), and Kitagawa had one more go at the Graz goal, displaying a nice step-over to make space for a shot, but firing too close to the keeper at the death (90’+4). His time will come, but after this display every Rapid player can be proud of their efforts. That comfortable home win brought the boys a big three points, and moves Rapid up to third place, level on points with second placed WAC. Next up for us, it’s an away trip to Pasching to face off against LASK on Wednesday.
Bundesliga, 24th round:
SK Rapid - Sturm Graz 4:0 (2:0)
Allianz Stadion, Ref Gishamer
Goals: 1:0 Arase (25.), 2:0 Arase (28.), 3:0 Schwab (70./Elfmeter), 4:0 Fountas (79.);
SK Rapid: Knoflach – Stojkovic, Greiml (72./Grahovac), Hofmann – Schick (76./Auer), Ljubicic, Schwab (77./Demir) Ulmann – Knasmüllner (65./Petrovic), Fountas, Arase (46./Kitagawa);
SK Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl – Sakic, Donkor, Spendlhofer, Trummer (46./Huspek) – Dominguez (60./Leitgeb), Ljubic – Hierländer, Kiteishvili, Despodov (60./Jäger) – Röcher (60./Friesenbichler);
Yellow Cards: Greiml; Trummer, Despodow, Spendlhofer