UEFA Europa League Matchday 3: Royal Antwerp FC 0–1 LASK

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Botuilstadion Antwerp, 5 October 2020

LASK kept Royal Antwerp at bay in the Bosuilstadion for a precious away win on Europa League Matchday three. Johannes Eggestein came on as an enforced replacement for injured centre forward Marko Raguz, and he notched the only goal of the game as he lashed home early in the second half. Even with a second red card in succession in the competition, LASK were able to restrict Royal Antwerp to mere glimpses on goal as they deservedly held on for a narrow victory.

LASK’s opponents were hoping to continue the sparkling Europa League form which saw them sit atop Group J going into this match, and after beating English giants Spurs 1-0 at home last week, another three points were certainly on the Antwerp agenda. Coach Ivan Leko once more placed Mbokani and goal hero from seven days ago Lior Rafaelov at the front of the home side’s 5-3-2. LASK, too, know what it feels like to be the surprise package in this competition, but there were no shocks in the choice of a 4-3-3 formation, although Head Coach Dominik Thalhammer was able to welcome back James Holland to the midfield after the knock he picked up on matchday one.

The basis of LASK’s recent win over Ludogorets had come from a bright start, and so they got stuck in immediately in Antwerp as they looked to grab the initiative. Husein Balic showed quick footwork deep down the left-hand side, eventually prodding the ball through to Andreas Gruber who blasted straight at home keeper Butez with the first sight of goal after just four minutes. Neat passing triangles and a will to press forward enabled LASK to control the opening quarter of an hour, but there were only two long range efforts from Gruber and Philipp Wiesinger to show for it, as finishing touches in the box were proving hard to come by.

With half-chances stacking up, Balic flicked-on a cross to find Marko Raguz at the back post, but the young striker lost his footing and his shot sailed over the bar on the 20 minute mark. A handful of cynical fouls then halted LASK’s momentum somewhat, and with the referee reaching for his pocket on several occasions, the chances began to dry up.

It took Antwerp more than half an hour to find their own initial sight of goal, but Verstraete’s volley was high, wide, and against the run of play. It did come during a difficult phase for the guests, though; Raguz seemed to suffer a twisted knee as his boot caught in the turf, and although he played on, he soon had to leave the field in what appeared to be considerable pain following a foul from Hongla which left him in a heap. Coach Thalhammer brought on new boy Johannes Eggestein to see out the remainder of the first period. Gerkens registered a parting shot for the hosts just as first half stoppage time began, but although he was in a promising position at the far post, the offside flag rendered the action academic, and so it was goalless at the break.

With no more changes necessary, LASK once again attempted to take the reins in the second half as Peter Michorl took aim from distance, but he arrowed a shot off target three minutes in. Just six minutes later, LASK had themselves a potentially vital lead. Gruber found space on the right wing, and clipped a high ball over to the substitute Eggestein, who had time and space to chest down and fire home for 1-0! With no sign of letting up, Holland headed over moments later, before the game settled back down.

Antwerp had just their second hint of a chance when Alexander Schlager struggled to secure a headed ball under heavy pressure, but eventually he was able to bring it under control to complete his first real duty of the night after 65 minutes. The ever-active Gruber was then replaced like-for-like as Thomas Goiginger was given a chance on the right of the front three, but it was another enforced change which threatened to turn the tide of the game. With his name in the book already, Holland slipped into a challenge to earn a second yellow and an early bath, meaning LASK would have to do it the hard way for the remaining 25 minutes or so.

Remarkably, despite the numerical disadvantage, LASK firmly retained the upper-hand when it came to attacking football. Goiginger struck a shot from the right of the area which rebounded back off a defender, before Eggestein let fly from range only to see his shot rise over the upright. Royal Antwerp’s creative play was still far from majestic, but as they began to press for a leveller, Balic and Eggestein were able to break away two-on-two with a chance to kill the game. That one went begging, but as Antwerp began to increase the corner kick count and loft long balls into the area, the Upper Austrians’ defence remained resolute. One last glimmer of hope fell the way of Mbokani deep into time added on, but as he scooped the ball over the on-rushing Schlager he also lifted it over the frame of the goal.

LASK deservedly saw out the remaining seconds to secure another valuable Europa League victory, one which moves them firmly into contention in Group J, with Antwerp, Spurs and LASK all on six points, and another clash against the Belgians lying in wait next week back in Linz.

The line-ups:

Royal Antwerp: Butez; De Laet, Hongla, Seck; Kristiansen (Benavente 75’), Verstraete (Ampomah 65’), Haroun (Boya 86’), Gerkens, Miyoshi (Buta 63’); Rafaelov (Lukaku 86’), Mbokani.

LASK: Trauner; Filipovic, Trauner, Wiesinger; Renner, Michorl, Holland, Ranftl; Balic, Raguz (Eggestein 40’), Gruber (Goiginger 66’).

Goals: Eggestein 54’

Red card: Holland 68’

Attendance: 0

by Tom Middler from The Other Bundesliga