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With group rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv having already won 5-0 away to HJK Helsinki earlier in the day, LASK knew that nothing but a goal fest in the Armenian capital would carry them to the top of UEFA Conference League Group A by the end of Matchday 3. And while that did not quite come to pass, a 3-0 victory over Alashkert at a sparsely attended Republican Stadium in Yerevan – courtesy of goals by Hyun-Seok Hong, Thomas Goiginger and Peter Michorl – means the Linzers only trail the Israelis on goal difference and are already four points clear of third place.
LASK went into this match without a win in any competition for almost four weeks, having lost domestically to both Salzburg and Wolfsberger AC since their last UEFA Conference League outing – a 1-1 home draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv three weeks ago. Interim boss Andreas Wieland made four changes to the team that faced WAC, with Hong, Marvin Potzmann, Mamoudou Karamoko and Christoph Monschein replacing Florian Flecker, James Holland, Sascha Horvath and Alexander Schmidt in their usual 3-4-3 formation. European debutants Alashkert, who had lost both of their previous Conference League clashes and are languishing in second-to-last place in the Armenian top flight, lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system and were much-changed from the team that had drawn 1-1 with league rivals Pyunik six days earlier.
The Linzers looked very comfortable in the opening stages, combining in and around the opposition box – although they did not initially create any compelling chances, and the first real goal threat of the match instead came from Alashkert around the 10-minute mark. But Portuguese forward Jose Embalo, a summer signing from the Polish fourth division, headed the ball against the bar. LASK went close six minutes later when Karamoko powered away from his marker down the right and cut the ball back to Michorl, who was challenged by Vincent Bezecourt as he pulled the trigger – fairly, though, in the eyes of the referee.
The visitors were awarded a spot-kick in extremely dubious circumstances after around half an hour, however. Christoph Monschein’s back-heel in the box clearly struck Didier Kadio’s head rather than his hand but, with no VAR in the Conference League group stages, the referee opted to accept his linesman’s recommendation and pointed to the spot. Perhaps justice was served as Monschein struck the woodwork from 12 yards out, but Hong was on hand to atone for the penalty miss with a composed strike into the bottom corner from just inside the area that put LASK 1-0 up 10 minutes before the break. They were perhaps fortunate to stay ahead until the interval, though, with Embalo again striking the frame of the LASK goal and Alexander Schlager beating away James’ powerful follow-up.
With 10 minutes of the second period played, LASK boss Wieland opted to make a triple substitution and introduced Holland, Schmidt and Lukas Grgic in place of Monschein, Hong and Jan Boller. His side almost doubled their lead seconds later, only for Goiginger’s effort to be cleared off the line by Vladislav Kryuchkov after he had rounded goalkeeper Ognjen Cancarevic. Goiginger did find the net midway through the second period, however, tapping home Karamoko’s square ball to make it 2-0. It was the last involvement of the match for the young Frenchman, who was subsequently replaced by Husein Balic.
The second goal was a turning point in the game, knocking the stuffing out of Alashkert and putting LASK firmly in the driving seat. Their pressing – now back to its imperious best – kept the Armenians pinned back deep in their own half, and substitute Schmidt soon came close to adding a third via a downward header from the edge of the six-yard box that was ultimately just off target. Schmidt was soon joined in attack by Andreas Gruber, who replaced Goiginger with a little over 10 minutes remaining. Wieland’s charges then eventually added their third when Michorl fired in a low effort from range in second-half stoppage time.
By Lee Wingate from The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)
Alashkert: Cancarevic; Kryuchkov, Kadio, Cameta (Nixon 78’), Boljevic; Khurtsidze, Hovsepyan; James (Yedigaryan 66’), Bezecourt (Gome 58’), Papikyan (Alessandro 79’); Embalo
Subs: Yurchenko; Mihajlovic
LASK: Schlager; Boller (Holland 57‘), Maresic, Luckeneder; Potzman, Michorl, Hong (Grgic 57‘), Renner; Karamoko (Balic 69‘), Monschein (Schmidt 57‘), Goiginger (Gruber 79‘)
Subs: Gebauer; Polster, Flecker, Horvath
Goals: Hong (35‘), Goiginger (68‘), Michorl (90+2‘)