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Raiffeisen Arena, 14th February 2021

LASK’s intensity and desire earned them a deserved 2-0 win against Sturm Graz on Matchday 17 of the Bundesliga season. Their first home victory of 2021 came courtesy of Johannes Eggestein and Husein Balić, whose goals moved Dominik Thalhammer’s men above their opponents and into third place with five games of the regular season to go.

LASK had succumbed to defeats in both of their previous home games this year, but returned to winning ways in midweek with a 3-1 away victory in St. Pölten. Coach Dominik Thalhammer made only one change to the side that had started in Lower Austria, with Andreas Gruber replacing Husein Balić. Opposite number Christian Ilzer made three changes to the starting XI that had beaten SV Ried 2-1 during the week, with Gregory Wüthrich, Andreas Kuen and Jakob Jantscher making way for Niklas Geyrhofer, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic and Kelvin Yeboah.

The men from Linz started the game on the front foot and had two chances in the fifth minute, though Gernot Trauner’s header was blocked and Reinhold Ranftl blazed over from outside the box seconds later. But despite the early pressure from the hosts, the league’s best defence (13 goals conceded prior to kick-off) kept their shape well in the opening stages and allowed their hosts few opportunities to work their way into shooting positions.

It was a similar story at the other end, where Sturm rarely got close enough to goal to pose a threat. New signing Kelvin Yeboah, who was making his first start for the visitors since joining from WSG Tirol during the winter transfer window, did have a half-chance when he burst into the box on the 21st minute, but he tried to cut the ball back to Kevin Friesenbichler rather than go for goal himself and the danger was dealt with by Ranftl.

Sturm’s strongest spell of the game came as the half-hour mark approached, and Yeboah had a gilt-edged chance to put his side in front on 32 minutes. The Ghanaian forward timed his run to perfection to latch on to a through-ball from Otar Kiteishvili and get in behind Trauner, but LASK goalie Alexander Schlager was quick to read the danger and came charging off his line to narrow the angle. It was arguably a defining moment, as LASK took the lead themselves not long afterwards. Despite miskicking his shot, Eggestein still managed to beat Jörg Siebenhandl and notch his sixth goal of the season with the last touch of the first half.

LASK started the second period in much the same way they had the first, piling the pressure on their opponents and looking to double their lead rather than protect it. The Black & Whites initially struggled to play their way through Sturm’s well-marshalled defence, but space began to open up around the hour-mark and Eggestein went close again in the 57th minute – although the offside flag was raised and it would not have counted anyway.

Despite registering few clear-cut opportunities, LASK were the clearly superior side after the restart and looked the likelier of the two teams to find the net for the majority of the second period. But it was not until the 84th minute that they capitalised upon some confusion in the Sturm rearguard and Husein Balić doubled the advantage via a fortuitous deflection off a defender. There was never any doubt about the outcome after that, and LASK saw out a deserved victory to claim their seventh win in nine home games this term.

The line-ups:

LASK: Schlager, Wiesinger, Trauner, Filipovic (Andrade 61‘), Ranftl, Holland, Michorl, Potzmann (Renner 71‘), Gruber (Plojer 90‘), Eggestein, Goiginger (Balic 61‘)

Yellow cards: None

Goals: Eggestein 45’; Balić 84’

Sturm Graz: Siebenhandl, Gazibegovic, Nemeth, Geyrhofer, Dante, Hierländer, Gorenc-Stankovic, Kiteishvili (Mwepu 87’), Ljubic (Kuen 83’), Friesenbichler, Yeboah (Balaj 83’)

Yellow cards: Geyrhofer 54’; Gazibegovic 80’

Goals: None

Attendance: 0

by Lee Wingate from The Other Bundesliga