In its efforts to keep the race for the football championship title open for as long as possible, Sturm Graz suffered a severe setback. Grazers had to concede defeat to Austria Klagenfurt at home on Saturday with 1: 2 (1: 1). Salzburg, champions and league leaders, can extend the gap over their nearest pursuers to nine points with a home win on Sunday (5:00pm / Live Sky) against bottom club SV Ried. Klagenfurt is still in seventh place.
The hosts took an early lead through David Avengruber (11), but the defender equalized in front of 12,025 spectators after just two minutes with an own goal. Top scorer Marcus Pink (54′) made the decision in Klagenfurt. Sturm suffered only their second defeat in the league this season, their first since August (0–1 against LASK) or after a 13-match unbeaten run. After the winter break, they celebrated only successes: in the quarter-finals of the cup in Salzburg on penalties, against Rapid (1-0) and in Hartberg (2-1).
In the absence of injured top players Gregory Futhrich, Otar Kitishvili, Jacob Gancher, Alban Ajeti and William Boving, Sturm has strengthened the attack. In place of captain Stefan Herlander in midfield, striker Emmanuel Emiga, who is back in shape after an illness, starts. Klagenfurt coach Peter Pacholt changed his system to a defensive chain of three or five and, after a 3-0 defeat at home to Wydad, also put four new players into the starting line-up – including winter newcomers Vissel Demako and first-time debutants Nicholas Bender.
The Carinthian defensive wall was cracked for the first time after ten minutes. Avengruber headed in a cross from Manpreet Sarkaria from the left. The centre-back had already scored the golden goal against Rapid two weeks earlier. But this time, he made up for it himself. He surprised Sturm with a free kick, which Dimako quickly executed on loan. After the next cross from the powerful Simon Stradi, Avengruber turned the ball into his own net in a duel with Nikolaus Wimmer.
Klagenfurt acted more courageously after 1: 1. The match was balanced, and Storm looked discouraged. Bender missed a great opportunity. Attacker brought on by Rapid from six yards deflected into the corner (30′). On the other hand, Tommy Horvat hit the goal (33). At the end of the first half, Storm was unlucky with two aluminum goals: Sarkaria hit the crossbar first from close range after a cross from Alexandre Prass (38). Three minutes later, Klagenfurt defender Thorsten Maher sent Sarkaria’s cross into the post.
The low guests from Carinthia made life difficult for Storm in the second half – and they hit the ice cold through Captain Pink. Slightly on the ball, Stroudy defended the match against two opponents, and the Bundesliga’s top scorer leader used his pass between the legs of Storm’s new goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo. For Pink, who worked with Sturm for a year and a half until early 2020, it was his 13th goal of the season in the league, his first after the winter break.
Storm debutant Grgic hit the crossbar as well
The aluminum floor remained true to Graz: after a corner kick, Aleksandar Borković headed up the pole. Additional shots from Horvat and Borkovic were blocked by Klagenfurt goalkeeper Philip Menzel (71). Storm coach Christian Elzer responded by helping forward Leon Grgic, then just 17, to make his professional debut. He also rolled the ball to the post with another great chance after a good run (84).
This ended Sturm’s streak, with third-place finisher LASK just five points away. Until then, Graz had won all six competitive matches against Klagenfurt – five in the league and one in the cup. After losing four competitive matches in a row, FC Klagenfurt got its first points in the new year. They have been winless in six matches. The last complete success was on October 22, a 1-0 win over Rapid. There is an opportunity to participate in the first 6 main groups three rounds before the end of the main round.
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