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Linzer Stadion, 26th November 2020
LASK slipped to a rare home defeat against group rivals Royal Antwerp on an icy evening in Linz. A red card early in the second half was the turning point, and once the visitors hit the front immediately after the dismissal there was no way back. Despite another spirited LASK performance with ten men, it was the guests who grabbed a second on the break to leave the home team facing a tough task to qualify from Europa League Group J.
As kick off approached in Linz on Thursday evening, only goal difference was separating LASK, Antwerp and Spurs in UEFA Europa League Group J, and with the English Premier League leaders still considered the favourites to win the group many were billing the game against the Belgians as a shoot-out for that all-important second spot. The home side were the form-team going into the game, sitting on an unbeaten run that stretched back to a match day 1 defeat by Tottenham, whereas the visitors had failed to win a game domestically since their surprise victory over the Londoners on match day 2. They made several changes from the last meeting in a switch to a 5-4-1 formation, whilst LASK stuck to a 3-4-3 with Mads Emil Madsen brought in for the suspended James Holland.
With action underway in freezing temperatures, it was Antwerp who warmed up quickest; a curling Juklerod cross hit the bar and caused momentary panic after just two minutes, but LASK soon found their feet as good chances fell to both sides in a frantic opening period. A Peter Michorl free kick tested Antwerp keeper Butez, Reinhold Ranftl then volleyed narrowly wide, before Alexander Schlager had to use his legs to save from Benavente after a perfect through pass, and still only a quarter of an hour had gone by!
The next fifteen minutes saw the game settle down with nowhere near the same amount of chance creation, and it took until after the half hour mark for the next good opening to come along, as a De Laet header was just inches away from putting Antwerp ahead. The closest LASK came to a first half opener was a dipping shot from Andreas Gruber which was fumbled by Butez, but with the ball hacked away to safety it remained goalless at the break.
The second half began in dramatic fashion, and unfortunately it was bad news for LASK. Five minutes in Gernot Trauner caught De Laet a split second too late on the edge of the box and was shown his marching orders by referee Donatas Rumsas. Refaelov’s resulting free kick then found the bottom corner after a hefty deflection, leaving the guests in a commanding position.
The numerical advantage counted for little initially, with the game broken up by a series of fouls and substitutions, but the hosts were not going to give up without a fight. With twenty minutes to play, a set-piece from Michorl was nodded goalwards by a combination of defender and attacker, but Butez got down to it. Six minutes later Ranftl capped a nice move with a low strike which went agonisingly past the upright as LASK looked to finish strongly.
With time ticking away Royal Antwerp kept men behind the ball and attempted to break on the counter, and the approach paid dividends when a long ball opened up LASK down the left, allowing Gerkens to head in a cross and double the lead with less than ten minutes left to play. There was no time for a heroic comeback, and Antwerp comfortably held on to take the three points. It was a bitter defeat for LASK in Group J, but with two games remaining, hopes of an extended European journey are not yet over!
LASK: Trauner; Filipovic (Potzmann 73’), Trauner, Wiesinger; Renner, Michorl, Madsen (Andrade 53’), Ranftl; Balic, Eggestein, Gruber (Goiginger 60’).
Red card: Trauner 50’
Yellow cards: Goiginger 63’, Eggestein 73’
Royal Antwerp: Butez; Juklerod (Buta 81’), De Laet, Batubinsika, Seck; Miyoshi (Lukaku 81’); Rafaelov (Benson 88’) Hongla, Haroun, Gerkens; Benavente (Ampomah 66’).
Goals: Refaelov 53’, Gerkens 83’
Yellow cards: Hongla 27’, Haroun 48’
by Tom Middler from The Other Bundesliga