Schalke 04 were unable to complete the UEFA Europa League group stage with a 100% record, as Xaver Schlager and Josip Radosevic goals earned a low-key win for the already-eliminated Red Bull Salzburg.
Schlager scored in a first half in which the hosts had bene the better side, with Radosevic adding extra gloss in stoppage time, taking advantage of second-choice Schalke goalkeeper Fabian Giefer going up for a corner.
Schalke had plenty of chances to at least remain unbeaten in Group I, many of which fell to Donis Avdijaj, but in the end it meant a second defeat in five days to a Red Bull team.
It has been a contrasting campaign for the two sides, with Schalke assured of top spot even before the game, having won all five of their previous matches, including the 3-1 victory over Salzburg in late September. The Austrian champions had in fact lost their first three games, with their win over OGC Nice and draw with FK Krasnodar being too little, too late.
With little to play for, both sides made mass changes from their weekend league matches. Salzburg retained just Stefan Lainer, Konrad Laimer and Valentino Lazaro from their 4-1 win over SCR Altach. Amongst those coming in were Liverpool’s on-loan defender Andre Wisdom and former FC St. Pauli midfielder Marc Rzatkowski.
Benedikt Höwedes was the only player retained from the Schalke side that started the 2-1 defeat to Salzburg's sister club RB Leipzig. Both Atsuto Uchida and Sidney Sam were named on the bench for the first time this season, and would make their returns to first team action in the second half.
Schlager gives hosts deserved lead
Salzburg were the better side in the first half, but in the opening stages both sides exchanged chances. Schlager has a cross vitally intercepted by Thilo Kehrer, with a poor touch from Lazalo denying him an excellent chance after a mistake from Höwedes. Meanwhile for Schalke, both Yevhen Konoplyanka and Avdijaj were denied by Cican Stankovic.
Salzburg took the lead after 21 minutes through Schlager. Christian Schwegler crossed the ball in from the right, with Lazaro attempting to play it on, only to see the ball deflect off Kehrer. He got back on it though, finding Schlager, who finished comfortably.
The hosts would have plenty of chances to extend their lead. Laimer had a shot saved by Giefer, Schlager saw his chance deflected out after a misplaced clearance from Höwedes, whilst Lazaro also struck wide.
Schalke had a small number of chances to equalise though, with Avdijaj the most involved. He had two more strikes from outside the box saved by Stankovic, whilst Konoplyanka went wide following a quick break.
Radosevic settles consolation win with final kick
Schalke had the edge in the second half, but the equaliser wouldn’t come. Fabian Reese had a shot saved by Stankovic, before Konoplyanka had a possible penalty turned down, after he was pushed aside in the box by Wisdom whilst going for a Júnior Caiçara cross.
Their best chances fell again to Avdijaj though. His excellent header from a Konoplyanka free-kick was tipped over the bar by Stanovic, who kept out two further chances for the 20-year-old later in the half.
Schlager and Radosevic went wide for Salzburg, who also had the ball in the net twice in the space of a minute. First Takumi Minamino and then substitute Hannes Wolf, who was making his first team debut, thought they might have scored, however on both occasions they were denied by the offside flag.
The icing on the cake for the hosts came in the final moments of the match. With Geifer up for a last gasp Schalke corner, a vital header from Wisdom cleared the danger and triggered a counter attack, with Radosevic finishing with a precise shot from some way out with the Schalke keeper struggling to get back.
It made little difference to the overall equation though, with Schalke topping the group and Salzburg finished level on points with second-placed Krasnodar, but with an inferior head-to-head record.