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Allianz Stadium, 22nd May 2021

LASK failed to build on a strong first half as they slipped to defeat on the final day away to SK Rapid. A goal moments after the break from Taxi Fountas and a late Christoph Knasmüllner brace turned the tide in favour of the home team, but the Linzers finished fourth nonetheless, and will play European football again next season.

In the final fixture of a demanding campaign, Head Coach Dominik Thalhammer was looking to get LASK over the line in 4th to seal the all-important European qualification place that goes with it. Needing a point to fend off any challenge from WAC in 5th, Mads Emil Madsen was given a rare start in midfield for the Black and Whites with James Holland on the bench for the game in the capital, as 3,000 fans returned to the Allianz Stadium for the first time in around six months.

Roared on by those returning home fans, SK Rapid were fighting their own European battle on Saturday evening, as they aimed to remain in second spot and pip Sturm to the Champions League qualifiers: That set up the game nicely, as both sets of players had their sights firmly fixed on the win, but both benches were keeping tabs on the action elsewhere, knowing that the result in Wolfsberg would play its part in the proceedings.

Both teams opened the game with some direct passes forward as they looked to start on the front foot; Gernot Trauner had to stay strong to hold off Ercan Kara’s early attack, and then Husein Balic was played through at the other end. He rounded keeper Richard Strebinger and went to ground, but just as LASK prepared for the penalty kick, the referee brandished a yellow card for diving in an incredibly contentious call. A let off for the hosts after just six minutes.

With every challenge greeted by applause, it felt like a return to some kind of normality out on the field, and normal service was almost resumed for Johannes Eggestein as he came close to connecting with a ball into the box, but Strebinger was there in the nick of time. With the visitors looking in command, a scuffed back pass from Andres Andrade very nearly gifted Rapid the lead, but the defender was bailed out by keeper Alexander Schlager, who made a vital stop with his legs to deny Yusuf Demir with just under 20 minutes on the clock.

Peter Michorl curled a shot wide of the post as the Linzers continued to cause trouble, before Rene Renner went even closer to opening the scoring, firing a Thomas Goiginger lay-off against the right angle. On the half-hour mark the guests had to survive a goal mouth scramble from a Rapid corner, but they were soon back on top when Michorl’s powerful free kick forced a diving save from Strebinger. Despite remaining in command, LASK went in at the break level, and the league situation was on a knife-edge given that WAC were in front against Sturm.

Just seconds after the restart, LASK’s hard work from the first half was suddenly undone: Yusuf Demir attacked down the left, and the ball in came to Filip Stojkovic, who set up Fountas to smash Rapid into the lead. With that setback the Black and Whites slipped temporarily to fifth, but goals elsewhere for Sturm brought some relief. Kara got in behind the defence as the home team took confidence from their opener, but his shot was blocked from a tight angle.

Trauner reacted well to slide in and stop substitute Christoph Knasmüllner in the box, but there was a noticeable drop off in LASK’s attacking threat in the second period. Knasmüllner came forward again and this time he would not be denied, slamming a low shot into the bottom corner of Schlager’s goal to make it 2-0 with fifteen minutes left to play.

Rapid were able to sit on their advantage and see out the win, but fortunately for LASK, Sturm were cruising away against WAC, meaning the risk of falling to fifth place had evaporated by the closing stages of the game. Knasmüllner even added a third for the hosts with a tap-in which proved to be the final kick of the game, so congratulations must go to SK Rapid who end the season as the Bundesliga runners-up.

It was a bitter way to close out a season of such promise for LASK, but at least the happy ending of fourth place offered some consolation in the form of participation in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League next season.

By The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)

The line-ups:

SK Rapid: Strebinger; Greiml (Schick 66’), Hofmann, Barac (Sonnleitner 78’); Ullmann, Petrovic, Schuster, Stojkovic; Demir (Kitagawa 78’); Kara, Fountas (Knasmüllner 57’)

Subs: Gartler, Sonnleitner, Ritzmaier, Schick, Knasmüllner, Kitagawa, Ljubicic

Goals: Fountas (47’), Knasmüllner (74’, 90’)

LASK: Schlager; Filipovic (Ramsebner 85’), Trauner, Andrade; Renner, Madsen, Michorl, Ranftl; Balic (Griger 71’), Eggestein (Reiter 51’), Goiginger

Subs: Gebauer, Reiter, Ramsebner, Potzmann, Müller, Holland, Griger