Five in a row for Rapid after Kara finds a winner against WAC
Bundesliga Match Day 16 in Hütteldorf promised to be a tough one for both teams, with Rapid pitted against another of Austria’s European contenders in the form of Wolfsberger AC. While a perfect January had built our cushion over third-placed Sturm Graz behind us, we couldn’t help but look forward too, with Rapid nestled in second spot just one point behind Salzburg. For the visitors, the three points would be required for different reasons, as a battle for a place in the all-important Championship Group is being fiercely fought-out by several sides, including the Carinthians. Head Coach Didi Kühbauer kept faith with in-form midfielders Thorsten Schick, Christoph Knasmüllner and (former WAC man) Marcel Ritzmaier behind Ercan Kara up front, and Koya Kitagawa, who has bagged a team-high three goals versus WAC, was waiting on the bench.
Following a morale-boosting Bundesliga win against LASK, Rapid's busy fixture list had relaxed somewhat at the weekend, and with WAC on domestic cup duty, there was reason to expect that our boys in Green and White would be faster out of the blocks. In reality, the opening 25 minutes saw almost no action for either goalkeeper, as the game began with an evenly contested midfield battle which could perhaps have been foreseen in a clash between the two sides with the highest ratio of challenges won in the league this season. Vizinger was the first player to get a look in behind the defensive line, but he was pulled back for offside after the game’s first shot (26’).
We only had to wait a few more minutes for the first valid shot of the match, and when Kara picked up a loose ball five yards outside the box, he didn't hesitate to hammer it goalwards: The shot moved in the air and flummoxed keeper Kofler, flying into the top corner of his goal for 1-0 to Rapid (32’)! WAC did grow into the game slightly after that, but other than pouncing at the feet of Stratznig, Richi Strebinger had little to do as Rapid saw out the first half with an advantage.
The second half didn't immediately see a vast increase in chances created, but half-time sub Wernitznig fired wide from range early on for WAC, and Rapid made a switch of their own when Kitagawa replaced Knasmüllner (54’). Vizinger tested Strebinger, this time from an onside position, but our keeper parried to safety (59’). With the game finally opening up, Kitagawa teed up Ritzmaier in the area against his old club, but with his shot saved, Kara could only lash the rebound high and wide (61’) in Rapid’s best chance of the game.
Our defenders were beginning to be called upon more often, and Filip Stojkovic had to defend a Vizinger overhead kick with his face, before Leo Greiml blocked a Wernitznig free kick with his head (67’)! WAC went for a triple substitution in an attempt to get back into the match (70’), and four minutes later another bicycle kick came in, this time from sub Joveljic, and Strebinger will have been relieved to see it roll just wide.
The Rapid quarter-hour has been a fruitful fifteen-minute period for us this season, yielding eight goals for the Green and Whites, whereas WAC have struggled in the same time bracket with ten conceded. Kara kept hunting for his next one, firing off-target from the left (76’) and then straight at Kofler from a similar position (79’). At the other end, a Wernitznig free-kick ricocheted off three Rapid players and narrowly wide of the post (82’), and we were fortunate that the same player slipped when in a promising position a few seconds later.
Worryingly, Srdjan Grahovac had to leave the pitch with an injury, making way for Lion Schuster (87’), but as the clock ticked down, our defensive duties became ever less frenzied. Kofler came forward for WAC's final throw of the dice, yet Strebinger remained unbeaten, and Rapid's players were left to celebrate the win at the final whistle. It wasn’t always pretty, but our defence had held firm to earn us a precious three points and leave us top of the table, temporarily at least. RAPID!