Rapid score three in a thrilling comeback win against Sturm
Off the back of two straight defeats, we went in to match day 30’s game against Sturm Graz looking for some important points in our quest for European qualification. Sturm themselves still had an outside chance of reaching the final play-off spot too, and with coach Nestor El Maestro recently relieved of his duties, Sturm II coach Thomas Hösele took over and brought in a changed starting line-up for the Styrians. On our side, coach Didi Kühbauer welcomed back Kelvin Arase in an attacking role, alongside him was Koya Kitagawa, with Taxi Fountas suspended. In defence, Leo Greiml made up a back three with Max Hofmann and Filip Stojkovic.
In the opening phase of the game, Stefan Schwab got the ball through to Kitagawa, he served up Christoph Knasmüllner in the area but the final shot didn’t have enough power on it (8’). Sturm then threatened with Despodov crossing to Balaj, whose finish was fortunately well off-target (12’). Kitagawa then delivered a dangerous cross from the right wing, finding the red shirt of Knasmüllner once more, but his attempt only skidded across the goal and harmlessly wide (21’) - our second good chance already! Moments later Max Hofmann picked up a 5th yellow, meaning he’ll miss the game against LASK. He very nearly made up for that though, with a header from a corner on the half hour mark which perhaps should have given us the lead, but went over the bar instead.
Just as our chances were mounting up, Sturm hit the front. After a rogue sprinkler soaked the penalty area at a Sturm set-piece, Jantscher's ball in found Hierländer who glanced onwards and in at the far post with the back of his head (33’); 1-0 to the home side. Schwab attempted to equalise before the interval but his shot was deflected and looped up and onto the roof of the net (42’). In first half stoppage time, things got worse, too. On a breakaway attack down the right, Despodov made room to whip a ball in, and Kiteishvili found space between defenders to head home for 2-0 (45’+1). We needed a big response in the second half just to keep the game alive.
Just a few minutes after the restart and we had our lifeline! Dejan Petrovic was on for Hofmann, and his shot was blocked, but the rebound fell to Stojkovic who delivered a beauty of a cross with the outside of his boot. As it bounced towards the back post, Arase timed his movement perfectly to evade the offside trap and dive down for a header which just crossed the line (51’) 2-1 and still 40 minutes to play! Just minutes later the active Petrovic rounded Sturm keeper Siebenhandl, and cut a ball back across goal where somehow Kitagawa's contact wasn’t clean enough for an equaliser (54’). Thankfully the miss wasn’t punished as Sturm soon went up the other end where Balaj fired off a fierce shot on the turn; just over Tobias Knoflach's goal (60’). Dejan Ljubicic then tested the keeper from outside the box, but his shot was pushed away (63’). Time for Ercan Kara and Melih Ibrahimoglu to join the action in the hunt for a leveller.
With time ticking away, it was the young substitute Ibrahimoglu who unlocked the door, he turned back just inside the area and was clipped by Ljubic…Penalty to Rapid! Up stepped Stefan Schwab to bury it; 2-2 (83’)! Not content to settle for a point, our boys pushed onwards. Leo Greiml curled a perfect pass on the break towards Thorsten Schick, who laid it off with precision into the bounding run of Kara. He didn’t break stride as he took it around Siebenhandl and tucked the ball away on an angle for 3-2 (90’+2)!
That turned out to be the last meaningful action of the game. An astonishing turnaround in Graz meant we ended a difficult week on a real high. Next up it’s our final home game of this strange season, when we face LASK on Wednesday (kick-off: 20:30). Let’s go for one more home win!
Bundesliga, 30th round:
SK Sturm Graz - SK Rapid 2:3 (2:0)
Merkur Arena, Ref Hameter
Goals: 1:0 Hierländer (34.), 2:0 Kiteishvili (45.+2), 2:1 Arase (51.), 2:2 Schwab (83./Penalty), 2:3 Kara (90.);
SK Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl – Hierländer (71./Sakic), Avlonitis, Geyrhofer, Trummer – Ljubic (84./Jäger), Dominguez – Despodow, Kiteishvili, Jantscher (84./Shabanhaxhaj) – Balaj
SK Rapid: Knoflach – Stojkovic, Hofmann (46./Petrovic), Greiml – Schick (93./Grahovac), D. Ljubicic, Schwab, Ullmann – Knasmüllner (75./Ibrahimoglu) – Kitagawa (60./Kara), Arase
Yellow Cards: Jantscher, Dominguez; Hofmann