UEFA EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE: ST. JOHNSTONE 0-2 LASK
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McDiarmid Park, 26th August 2021
LASK reached the group stages of a European competition for the third season in a row after claiming a hard-fought 2-0 away win at St. Johnstone that took them through 3-1 on aggregate. Husein Balic’s thunderous effort into the roof of the net midway through the second period was followed by a Marko Raguz penalty six minutes from time as the Linzers overcame their Scottish hosts – who had two players sent off – and qualified for the UEFA Conference League.
Dominik Thalhammer’s side took to the pitch at McDiarmid Park in their usual 3-4-3 formation but with four changes to the side that had disappointingly dropped two points to Hartberg at the weekend. Philipp Wiesinger, Florian Flecker and Thomas Goiginger replaced Jan Boller, Marvin Potzmann and Balic in like-for-like changes down the right flank, while Keito Nakamura came in for Alexander Schmidt at centre-forward. St. Johnstone were largely unchanged from the team that had been beaten at home by Dundee in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday: James Brown and Michael O’Halloran were the only fresh faces, replacing Hayden Muller and Stevie May respectively.
LASK made a bright start and had an excellent opportunity to open the scoring in the third minute when the industrious Hyun-Seok Hong drove through a crowded midfield and pulled the trigger from close range – but Zander Clark in the St. Johnstone goal turned the ball behind for a corner. It was to prove the best chance of the first half for the Linzers, whose final ball was often lacking when they did manage to find some space in opposition territory.
The Scots had never previously participated in a European group phase but – backed by a passionate crowd that was regularly whipped into a frenzy by the home team – they seemed unfazed by the opportunity to write themselves into the history books. Though chances were few and far between in a disjointed opening half-hour, the hosts demonstrated their aerial threat from set-pieces with a corner that whizzed across goal in the 20th minute.
The remainder of the first half was characterised by aggressive challenges and possession turnovers, as both teams struggled to translate their spells on the ball into meaningful chances in front of goal. LASK did have to be on the alert five minutes before the break, however, when Glenn Middleton curled a dangerous-looking free-kick into the box from the left flank that Andres Andrade did extremely well to turn behind for a corner. At the other end, Mamoudou Karamoko played a dangerous low ball across the face of goal in first-half stoppage time but none of his team-mates made the run to get on the end of it.
The visitors were on the front foot as soon as the second half got under way and almost scored immediately through Peter Michorl, whose well-placed volley from inside the penalty area was palmed away to safety by Clark. The shot-stepper made another brilliant reaction save 10 minutes later when he again intervened to deny a powerful close-range effort from Hong. LASK were upping the pressure – and there seemed to be little their hosts could do about it.
Balic went close with a volley in the 63rd minute, before Schlager made a brilliant stop to deny Middleton from point-blank range at the other end four minutes later – St. Johnstone’s best chance of the match by some distance. But the breakthrough finally came for LASK with around 20 minutes remaining when Flecker received the ball from Michorl and picked out Balic, who hammered it under the crossbar and into the roof of the net.
If the tie wasn’t over by that point, it certainly was after the hosts went down to nine men – with substitute David Wotherspoon shown a straight red card for an elbow on Flecker almost immediately after coming on and Shaun Rooney sent off for a second bookable offence. The latter foul resulted in a penalty for LASK that was coolly slotted home by Marko Raguz as the visitors deservedly confirmed their place in the group stages of the Conference League.
By Lee Wingate from The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)
St. Johnstone: Clark; Rooney, Kerr, McCart; Brown (Wotherspoon 75’), McCann (Gilmour 90+1), Davidson, Middleton (Craig 88’), Booth (Devine 88’); O’Halloran, Kane (May 88’)
Subs: Parish, Sinclair, Muller, Denham, Ballantyne, Hendry, Northcott
Red cards: Wotherspoon (76’), Rooney (84’)
LASK: Schlager; Wiesinger (Balic 60‘), Andrade, Filipovic (Maresic 86‘); Flecker, Hong, Michorl, Renner (Potzmann 86‘); Goiginger, Nakamura (Boller 60‘), Karamoko (Raguz 74‘)
Subs: Polster, Gebauer, Letard, Wild, Radulovic, Schmidt
Goals: Balic (72’), Raguz (pen. 84’)