Brann pull off a fantastic victory on the final day to condemn Sogndal to the second tier
The final day of the 2014 Tippeligaen season, a straight fight between Brann and Sogndal to avoid automatic relegation to the Norwegian 1st Division, was always going to be a nerve-racking one, and one which could have gone either way with only two points separating the two struggling sides heading into their respective last games of the year.
Brann were on the front foot thanks to last weekend’s 2-1 win at home to Sogndal – easily their most important victory in what has been a season to forget for the Bergensers – and started Sunday in the relegation play-off spot in 14th place with 26 points, whilst Sogndal, without a single point in their previous four games before this weekend and with only one victory since the middle of June, had an incredibly tough task on their hands if they were to avoid dropping back down to the second tier for the first time since 2010.
Their opponents were Stabæk, a side that had also been struggling in recent weeks, albeit slightly further up the table. After bouncing back from a torrid mid-season slump in which they lost seven out of 10 league games between the end of May and the middle of August by winning three times in five weeks, including impressive victories against both Strømsgodset and Lillestrøm, the last four weeks saw Stabæk unable to pick up a single league win, leaving them in danger of finishing what has largely been an impressive season in disappointing fashion if they were unable to see off Sogndal.
The latter side would have been hoping that that would be the case, as they needed to win in their clash at Fosshaugane Campus and hope that Brann were unable to pick up any points against a Haugesund side that have been in fantastic form recently.
As it happened, a brilliant performance from Brann, the kind that their fans would have wished they could have produced on several occasions earlier in the season, saw them narrowly beat Haugesund 3-2, with the Bergensers’ opening two goals coming in the first 12 minutes of the game after a lightning-quick start.
Erik Huseklepp hit the back of the net first after just six minutes had been played, before Swedish striker Jakob Orlov doubled their lead six minutes later with his ninth goal of the season.
Haugesund – who had won five of their last six league games before this weekend and, despite the defeat, finish the year equal on points with Viking after the Stavanger side were beaten 3-2 by Bodø/Glimt in their final game of the season – almost pulled off a fantastic comeback, with Christian Gytkjær scoring first after a terrible mistake by Brann goalkeeper Piotr Leciejewski, before Kristoffer Haraldseid curled in an equalising goal from a free kick just outside of the penalty area with little over 10 minutes left to play.
Due to their superior goal difference, a draw would have just about been enough to confirm Brann’s 14th place finish, but deep into injury time Andreas Vindheim charged up the pitch and slotted the ball past Per Morten Kristiansen to make it 3-2 and condemn Sogndal to the second tier.
At this point, even a win could not save Sogndal from the disappointment of relegation, but, despite being presented with a plethora of chances to put the game to bed early on, they were unable to do so, and their determination to salvage a late win resulted in a 2-0 victory for Stabæk after both Luc Kassi and Franck Boli scored in the final five minutes to bring Sogndal’s season to an end in the most painful of ways.
They will join Sandnes Ulf in the second tier next year, and the two sides will be replaced by Sandefjord and Tromsø, who finished in first and second place, respectively, in the 1st Division this season.
Brann, meanwhile, now face a two-legged play-off clash against either Mjøndalen or Bærum, depending on which of the sides are victorious when they meet in their promotion play-off final on Saturday evening. Brann may have escaped automatic relegation, but they are not out of the woods just yet.
A brilliant season ends in disappointing circumstances for Odd
At the other end of the table, a fierce and exciting fight for second place was still raging on as the season came to an end on Sunday evening, with both Rosenborg and Odd battling it out for the first of the three Europa League qualification spots.
Odd, who have had an absolutely fantastic season, far surpassing almost everybody’s expectations to head into the final game of the year in such a high position in the table, needed a victory this weekend to confirm their second-place finish after a narrow 1-0 defeat against an incredibly strong Rosenborg side in their penultimate game of the season, but, with them having to face champions Molde at Aker Stadion, it was not going to be easy.
That proved to be the case, as, despite their best efforts, the impressive title winners came away with a 2-0 victory under their belt – their 22nd of the season, the most any team has won since the league’s expansion from 14 to 16 teams just before the start of the 2009 season.
As a result, Rosenborg, who started the weekend just one point behind Odd in third place and with five consecutive league victories under their belt, needed to win at home to fourth-place Strømsgodset to move above the Skien club at the last minute and into second place, and they managed to do so in excellent style.
Despite falling behind after only 13 minutes through a 10th league goal of the season from veteran, and former Odd striker, Péter Kovács, the 22-time league champions ended up emphatically beating David Nielsen’s side 4-1 in front of 17,500 fans at Lerkendal Stadion, thanks to a second-half brace from Mike Jensen and a goal each for Mikael Dorsin and Riku Riski.
The win means that they finish the season in fine form, with nine wins from their final 10 games, although 11 points behind an unstoppable Molde side that always looked as if they were going to be too good to beat, even from the early stages of the season.
Aalesund finish 2014 in fine fashion with a fourth consecutive victory
Before the start of the season, many had predicted Aalesund to finish near the top of the table after an impressive campaign last year in which they only just missed out on a top-three finish by two points, but things would prove to be far more complicated when Jan Jönsson’s men returned to the pitch at the end of March.
Only one win from their opening 12 league games left them languishing near the foot of the table, and even though they managed to find temporary good form in the middle part of the season, it still looked as if they were going to be firmly involved in the fight to avoid relegation come the end of the year.
However, that all changed after they received a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Molde in the latter stages of August, as they bounced back from that humiliating defeat by pulling off a spectacular 2-0 win at home to Strømsgodset in their next league game, before going on to lose just once in their next seven clashes, with the final three of those ending in victory.
Last weekend’s 4-1 win at home to Vålerenga was the pick of the bunch, and this week they made sure that they finished a stressful season in fantastic fashion, as they came from a goal down to beat bottom side Sandnes Ulf 2-1, thanks to goals from Michael Barrantes and Sakari Mattila, the latter of which came in the 91st minute.
As a result, they finish the year just one point behind sixth-place Vålerenga, who beat Start 1-0 at home in their last game to avoid ending another disappointing season with a fourth consecutive league defeat, and only five behind fifth-place Lillestrøm, who were beaten 3-2 by eighth-place Sarpsborg 08 on Sunday.
Lillestrøm started October 12 points and six places ahead of Aalesund, which shows just how impressive Aalesund’s late season turnaround was, not to mention how the former side’s poor form in the latter stages of the year helped to deny them the opportunity to qualify for the Europa League for the first time since 2008.
Nordsjælland’s worrying winless run enters its fifth week
After embarking on an impressive run of good form at the start of the season, winning six of their opening nine league games, Nordsjælland have failed to pick up a victory in any of their last five clashes, with three of those ending in defeat.
Ólafur Kristjánsson’s struggling side have also only managed to score just twice in those five disappointing games, with both of those goals coming in a poor 3-2 defeat at home to SønderjyskE, who, despite only winning one of their first 10 games of the season, now sit just three points behind them in eighth place.
Whilst this weekend’s goalless draw against København was by no means a bad result – København sat in second place in the Danish Superliga table at the start of the week with three wins from their last four league clashes – it does mean that Nordsjælland are slowly but surely dropping down towards the bottom half of the table, and with no wins in their last five games, heads are starting to drop and questions are starting to be asked.
A group of players that at one point looked like the only side that were going to be able to challenge high-flying Midtjylland now sit 13 points behind the league leaders only 14 games into the season, and Hobro’s impressive 3-0 win at home to fifth-place Brøndby this weekend means that Nordsjælland now lie just one point ahead of the seventh-place side, who, like the 2011-12 league champions, found themselves in the middle of a torrid run of form heading into this weekend, without a win in their last eight games ahead of what was meant to be a tough clash against a Brøndby side that had embarked on a five-game unbeaten run.
Nordsjælland now face a struggling Odense side after the international break, and that game at TRE-FOR Park really is a must-win clash, even at this relatively early stage of the season.
Another defeat, coupled with another win for Midtjylland, who extended their lead at the top of the table to 10 points with a routine 2-1 victory away to bottom side Silkeborg on Friday evening, would be disastrous for Nordsjælland, as it would leave them 16 points behind the league leaders and, when one takes into account the fantastic form that Midtjylland have been in so far this season, incredibly unlikely to ever catch the incredibly impressive side.
Back-to-back wins confirm Gefle’s place in Allsvenskan for another year
A tough season for Gefle in which they were involved in a fierce battle to avoid automatic relegation to Superettan, the second tier of Swedish football, right up until the final game of the year ended with a brilliant 2-1 win at home to Helsingborg, meaning that they finished in the relegation play-off spot in 14th place, just three points ahead of Mjällby, who, as a result of Gefle’s final-day victory, will now play in the second tier when domestic season starts again next April.
Whilst Gefle’s last-minute escape from the jaws of automatic relegation meant that they lived to fight another day, it also left their Allsvenskan future in serious doubt, as they were forced to play two clashes against Ljungskile, the side that finished just one point behind both Hammarby and GIF Sundsvall, the two automatically promoted clubs, in third place in Superettan this season.
Despite often finding it hard to convert draws into wins (they drew 12 games and won 16), Ljungskile had an incredibly impressive year, losing just twice, with one of those defeats coming against eventual league champions Hammarby, to give themselves a chance of returning to Allsvenskan for only the second time since the turn of the century.
It looked like a return to the top tier might be on the cards for Ljungskile early into their first-leg clash at home to Gefle thanks to a 12th minute strike from Jakob Olsson, but the Allsvenskan side bounced back, with Johan Oremo, Jonas Lantto and Dioh Williams all hitting the back of the net, with the latter two goals coming within five minutes of one another during a period of intense Gefle pressure at the start of the second half.
Ljungskile were left with a mountain to climb in the second leg at Strömvallen, and Gefle’s strength and determination would prove to be too much for them, as Simon Lundevall scored the only goal of the game seven minutes after the half-time break to wrap up a 4-1 aggregate win for the hosts, confirming their place in the top tier for another season and bringing a difficult year to an end with a happy conclusion.