Austrian Bundesliga Round 27 – SK Sturm Graz 3-1 LASK

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Merkur Arena, 25th April 2021

LASK will be looking for midweek retribution after suffering an away defeat to Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga Championship Round. Two penalties from Jakob Jantscher and Kelvin Yeboah, as well as an own goal from Rene Renner, saw the Grazers into an unassailable lead, with substitute Marvin Potzmann scoring a late goal for the visitors. The result means that Sturm leapfrog LASK into third position in the table momentarily, but with the second leg of the double-header in Pasching on Wednesday there’ll be plenty to play for.

Prior to kick-off the Linzers were looking to get back to winning ways after a defeat against league leaders Salzburg and a draw versus Rapid Vienna, and in Sturm Graz they were facing a club they held four consecutive victories over. However, Christian Ilzer’s side had won nine of their 13 home games this season – their highest since the title winning seasons of the late 90s. Head coach Dominik Thalhammer deployed a 3-4-3 formation, with Husein Balic, James Holland and Rene Renner all returning to the starting line-up.

With victory needed in the battle for the European places, it was almost a dream start for LASK after a direct clearance from Alex Schlager found its way to Husein Balic but the former St. Pölten man dragged his effort wide.

The home side came alive after Jusuf Gazibegovic quickly asserted himself down the right and forced a half-chance, this was quickly followed by a huge opportunity after Schlager sped out to deny Yeboah on the left, the ball ricocheted to Jantscher whose rebound came dangerously close to opening the scoring.

Back at the other end, Gernot Trauner dominated from the corner with a powerful header just fizzing wide. Then, in the topsy turvy opening 20 minutes, Yeboah was played through but Schlager was there to make a brilliant save to deny the ex-WSG Tirol man. Jantscher saw another gilt-edged chance pass him by in the 27th minute, with a free header in the box off target.

The deadlock was broken in the 28th minute as Jantscher’s whipped in free-kick found Nemeth in the six-yard box who deflected the ball off the unfortunate Renner into the back of the net. Immediately post-goal there were worries for Schlager who went down with an injury, but after treatment the Austrian international was fine, to the relief of not only Thalhammer, but Austrian national team coach Franco Foda.

LASK tried for an equaliser immediately and were almost rewarded after Reinhold Ranftl’s sumptuous cross was met by Balic in the middle, but his glancing header was angled just wrong, but the Grazers were dangerous on the counter as Yeboah’s quick explosion forward forced another save from Schlager.

Unfortunately, just before the half-time whistle, LASK’s task became much more difficult after Phillip Wiesinger felled Yeboah and the hosts were awarded a penalty that Jantscher scored with aplomb.

As the second half began, LASK had the ball in the net in the 48th minute from a Trauner header but James Holland was adjudged to have fouled in the build-up, so the goal was chalked off by the officials.

The comeback became near-impossible for the Linzers in the 54th minute after referee Christopher Jäger pointed to the spot for a second time in the game after Trauner tussled with Yeboah on the byline. The Ghanaian striker stepped up and scored Sturm’s second penalty of the afternoon.

Sturm Graz’s record as the best defence in the Austrian Bundesliga stood up to the test in the second half as opportunities were lacking for LASK as they searched for any way back into the contest.

After the match entered its final minutes, LASK captain Trauner tried to force a way back into the game for his side, but saw his effort from distance excellently tipped around for a corner by Jorg Siebenhandl.

With four minutes remaining, there was just rewards for LASK’s attacking play after Johannes Eggestein’s cutback found Potzmann on the edge of the box to finally add a LASK name to the scoresheet – but unfortunately it was too little, too late. Renner tried to cut the deficit even more in injury time but failed to hit the target.

The two will meet again shortly on Wednesday evening, with hope of a reverse score line in the Linz camp.

By Simon Clark from The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)

The line-ups:

SK Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl; Dante, Nemeth, Gorenc-Stankovic, Gazibegovic (Mwepu 89’), Kuen, Ljubic, Hierländer, Kiteishvili (Jäger 83), Yeboah (Balaj 77’), Jantscher

Subs: Schützenauer, Huspek, Komposch, Zettl

Goals: Renner (OG) 28‘, Jantscher 45+1 (pen), Yeboah 54‘ (pen)

LASK: Schlager; Wiesinger, Trauner, Filipovic (Andrade 58‘), Balic, Madsen (Eggestein 58‘), Holland, Ranftl (Potzmann 71‘), Michorl (Grgic 71‘), Goiginger, Renner

Subs: Gebauer, Reiter, Sabitzer

Goal: Potzmann 86‘