Knasmüllner strikes late to earn a precious point against Salzburg
With only two teams left unbeaten in the Bundesliga table, Sunday's clash of the top two was always going to be billed as a kind of showdown in Hütteldorf, even with the continued absence of any fans in the stadium. With Rapid in second place, Head Coach Didi Kühbauer had to try to find the perfect formula with which to cause league leaders Salzburg some problems, and he opted for a 3-5-2 which featured Leo Greiml coming in to the back line and Kelvin Arase leading the forward line alongside Koya Kitagawa, with some interesting options remaining on the Rapid bench. Taxi Fountas was unfortunately not one of those potential changes, as a hand injury continued to prevent the comeback of our trusty goalscorer.
Rapid got things started in their special "Vienna" home shirts (which will be auctioned off by the club to benefit the victims of last week's awful terror attack in the city) and despite facing the strong favourites, the early phase was evenly matched. Rapid keeper Paul Gartler was alert enough to play the sweeper after five minutes, heading the ball away from Koita’s attack, and then Stankovic in the Salzburg goal had his first taste of the action when an Arase shot fell to Christoph Knasmüllner for a second effort (11’). On the whole though, both defences were holding up well, and clear-cut chances were hard to come by for either side.
Rapid's best move of the half came when the front two linked up; Arase burst forward to receive a wide one-two pass from Kita before slicing his finish off target (19’). It was a promising sign as our boys were starting to cause trouble to the visitors. Dejan Ljubicic showed the growing confidence of the team with a lofted effort from distance which sailed over (21’), but then Salzburg came back into the match. First Gartler parried a Berisha shot, and then suddenly a long ball reached the back post, where it was cushioned across the box for Koita to smash in the opening goal (29’). It was scant reward for a decent first half hour from Rapid, yet Gartler did well to deny Berisha a second Salzburg goal from inside the area (35’), and only a Greiml header from a Thorsten Schick set-piece got us close to an equaliser before the break (44’).
Greiml, who was on a caution, was replaced by Mario Sonnleitner at the interval, and unfortunately our captain had to be removed also, picking up an ankle injury early on after the restart and being replaced by youngster Lion Schuster (46’). It was a disastrous opening to the second period, but at least some smart saves from Gartler to deny Koita (49’) and pounce on a Ramalho header (52’) limited the damage as we struggled to create openings of our own.
Those options on the bench were used on the hour mark; Ercan Kara and Yusuf Demir coming on to shake things up in attack, and both players tested Stankovic with shots almost immediately (62’ and 63’) as we began to spend a bit more time in the Salzburg half. Srdjan Grahovac hit a low cross which found Maxi Ullmann who could only toe-poke towards goal (72’), but our attacking intent was still growing, as we had to commit players forward yet remain stable against Salzburg's own threats. Okugawa forced Gartler into another good stop (73’) but the match was still finely poised heading into the "Rapid Viertelstunde".
Next up, a strong run down the left from Kara was unlucky to result in nothing (77’) and then a smart turn from Srdjan Grahovac on the same flank led to a cross which saw Kara hit the target from close range (83’) only for Stankovic to save. That wasn’t all we had in store though, as we broke free down the centre once Kara had won the ball back strongly in midfield, feeding Knasmüllner who this time dinked a delightful finish over Stankovic and into the net for a hard-earned leveller (85’). 1-1 and only a few minutes to play! We had to defend one nerve-racking counter attack in stoppage time, but on the whole we remained just as likely to win it as Salzburg; perhaps fair then, that at the end of 94 tough minutes the points were shared. Both sides therefore go into the international break unbeaten, and some players can enjoy a brief bit of respite after an incredibly busy start to the season.
Photos: GEPA Pictures.
Bundesliga, 7th round:
SK Rapid - RB Salzburg 1:1 (0:1)
Allianz Stadion, Ref Drachta
Goals: 0:1 (29.) Koita, 1:1 (85.) Knasmüllner;
SK Rapid: Gartler – Greiml (46. Sonnleitner), Hofmann, Barac – Schick, D. Ljubicic (50. Schuster), Grahovac, Ullmann – Arase (61. Demir), Kitagawa (61. Kara), Knasmüllner
RB Salzburg: Stankovic – Vallci (92. Kristensen), Ramalho, Wöber, Ulmer – Okafor (68. Okugawa), E. Mwepu, Junuzovic (68. Ashimeru), Szoboszlai – Berisha, Koita (74. Adeyemi)
Yellow Cards: Hofmann, Greiml; Okafor, Ashimeru, Vallci