In a week when the truly magical nature of the Norwegian Cup was on show in full force with Adeccoligaen (the second highest tier of Norwegian football) side Hødd beating six-time cup winners Brann 3-1 in the semi-final in front of a record crowd that outnumbered the entire population of their tiny coastal hometown of Ulsteinvik, it would take some truly special football to make Round 24 of the league as exciting as the midweek cup action that preceded it.
True to the form that they have been in for much of the season, Rosenborg kicked off the weekend in fantastic fashion with a 5-2 home win over Haugesund in Trondheim. It was the away side that went ahead first, however, when Geir Ludvig Fevang fired in from a corner that everybody else in front of goal, Haugesund and Rosenborg alike, had missed. With the giants of Norwegian football a goal down at half time, boos rang out around Nye Lerkendal Stadion, but Rosenborg’s reply could bring only cheers of both joy and relief from the home fans. Only two minutes after the restart, Alexander Søderlund’s shoulder helped a Per Verner Rønning header past Per Morten Kristiansen to level the scores before a fine free-kick from Bořek Dočkal ten minutes later put the home side 2-1 ahead. Rade Prica was the next to score with just over twenty minutes left to play, a wonderfully controlled low volley from the Swedish striker finding the far corner of the net with incredible skill and precision. Haugesund didn’t give up though and a second Fevang goal from yet another corner five minutes later looked as if it might have initiated a comeback, but John Chibuike and Mix Diskerud quashed Haugesund’s hopes when two goals in the last ten minutes of normal time secured a much-needed win for the title chasers, their third in their last five league games.
After the excitement of Friday evening’s seven-goal thriller, Saturday’s lone game was something of a disappointment, neither Lillestrøm nor Viking finding themselves able to hit the back of the net when the two sides met at Åråsen Stadion. In a game of mediocre attacking quality boasting few chances for either side, King Osei Gyan’s first-half long-range effort for Viking was arguably the best chance of the game, Bosnian goalkeeper Sead Ramović leaping to his right to parry the ball out for a corner. The point was certainly better received by the away side as Viking remain safely in seventh-place with thirty-six points, whilst Lillestrøm are only six points clear of the relegation zone.
After reaching the Norwegian Cup final on Wednesday evening after beating league-leaders Molde 2-1 in a game that they led from the third minute, a single goal from Kara Mbodj after seven minutes ensured that Tromsø returned to winning ways in the league when they beat Aalesund 1-0 at home on Sunday afternoon. The Senegalese midfielder’s early strike was almost, and should have been, cancelled out by Demar Phillips when he was presented with the perfect opportunity alone in front of goal later in the first half but the Jamaican’s volleyed effort went well wide of the target. The result means that Aalesund have now gone three games without a win after two impressive victories in a row against Fredrikstad and Hønefoss had seemingly given them the confidence to push for a top half finish. Things are looking much better for Tromsø though, as, after four wins in their last five games, they remain in fourth place, sitting seven points behind Rosenborg with a game away to Sandnes Ulf in hand.
Two bottom half clashes between Sandnes Ulf and Odd Grenland and Hønefoss and Sogndal both ended in goalless draws, the first of the two games producing less-than-favourable comments from Asle Andersen after his team were subjected to what he called a “water polo match” due to the terrible conditions that both sides were forced to play in, leading the Sandnes Ulf coach to tell the press that the club would be appealing for a rematch. Odd Grenland’s coach, Dag-Eilev Fagermo, disagreed, however, pointing out to TV2 that “as long as he [the referee] says safety is not threatened, we must play” before questioning whether Sandnes Ulf would have considered appealing if the weather conditions had led to them securing a goalless draw against one of the title-chasing sides.
Thankfully, the latter of the goalless games was notable for far more positive reasons, as fantastic performances from both sets of goalkeepers forced Hønefoss and Sogndal to share a 0-0 draw for the third time in their last four meetings together. Hønefoss’ Steve Clark denied both Ruben Holsæter and Ricardo Santos with fantastic diving saves, whilst Sogndal’s Nils Udjus was equally as good in his denying of Helge Haugen and Mikkel Vendelbo. Arguably the more important of the two, Udjus’ performance means that Sogndal stay two points clear of the relegation zone, and with games coming up against fellow strugglers Lillestrøm, a poor Aalesund side and bottom-of-the-table Stabæk, Jonas Olsson will be hoping that a top-class performance from his star goalkeeper will have spurred on his men to pick up valuable points in the coming weeks to give them the push away from the relegation zone that they so desire.
Despite the scare of going one-nil down to bottom side Stabæk after only one minute, Molde fought back to win 4-3 in an epic game that made sure that they stay top of the table for the second week in a row. Daniel Chima Chukwu canceled out Franck Boli’s first minute opener twenty-four minutes later when he placed his rebounded shot between the legs of young Ivorian goalkeeper Mande Sayouba before he doubled his tally just four minutes later with a cool turn and strike in front of goal after being set up by Jo Inge Berget on the right. However, Stabæk, with only four wins this season compared to Molde’s fifteen, hit back three minutes later thanks to a headed effort from Veigar Páll Gunnarsson that sent the two sides into the changing rooms at half-time with two goals apiece. Their momentum was quickly ruined though when Magnus Stamnestrø scored his first league goal of the season just two minutes after the restart, with Chima then completing his hat trick four minutes after with a back-post header. Only five minutes passed before Stabæk had scored their third of the game, but Bjarte Haugsdal’s volley wasn’t enough to initiate a comeback and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men held on to pick up three points that really should not have proved so hard to get for the reigning champions.
Strømgodset’s ever-present pressure on Molde continued after they beat Brann 2-0 in Sunday’s final game to remain unbeaten at home this season. After a goalless first half in which both sides hit the woodwork, the home side went ahead ten minutes into the second half through a Lars Vilsvik penalty when Péter Kovács went down – somewhat easily for someone measuring six foot six inches in height, it must be said – after being pulled over by Birkir Sævarsson. Kovács had the perfect opportunity to double Strømgodset’s lead soon after when his close-range headed effort skimmed past the post, but substitute Ola Kamara was on hand to put them ahead and wrap up the victory after he slid in to convert Vilsvik’s low cross with little over fifteen minutes left to play.
The weekend’s last game saw a third-from-bottom-place Fredrikstad side desperate for points have their three game winning streak ended by a 2-1 Vålerenga victory after a great second half performance from goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld. A poor start to the first half for Fredrikstad allowed Morten Berre to put Vålerenga ahead after nineteen minutes with a back-post header that was set up beautifully by a lofted cross from the ever-impressive Mohammed Fellah. With three minutes to go before half time, Torgeir Børven coolly converted a penalty after Zlatko Tripić tripped Fellah on the edge of the box, wrapping up a first half to forget for Fredrikstad. However, the Fredrikstad that exited the tunnel for the second half wasn’t the same Fredrikstad that had entered it fifteen minutes earlier, the home side creating chance after chance until Robert Stene was finally able to pull one back for Rødbuksene ten minutes after the restart. Lars Grorud came closest to scoring an equaliser but a combination of Hirschfeld and the post denied him the chance to rescue a well-earned and much-needed point for his side. In the end, Vålerenga held on, ending Fredrikstad’s winning streak and leaving them only two points outside of the relegation zone and rooted the relegation play-off place for another week.
At the end of Round 24, Molde remain top of a top three that could change at any minute. Strømgodset are just one point behind, and the two teams meet each other on October 21st in what might be the most important game of the season. Rosenborg sit just one point behind Strømgodset in third and they themselves meet Molde the weekend after the aforementioned tie between the top two. Tromsø are in fourth with thirty-nine points – seven behind Rosenborg – with Vålerenga now in fifth with thirty-seven points after their second consecutive win. Brann’s defeat means that they drop to sixth, whilst Viking are equal on points with them in seventh. Three defeats in their last five games means that Haugesund end the round in eighth with thirty-four points, three points ahead of ninth-place Hønefoss who are now without a win in seven games. Poor recent form leaves Aalesund in tenth with twenty-nine points, equal on points with an ascending Odd Grenland after they picked up their second draw in a row this weekend. Lillestrøm are one point behind in twelfth and Sogndal lie four points behind them in thirteenth with Fredrikstad equal on points with them in the sole relegation play-off place. Sandnes Ulf stay in the relegation zone with twenty-two points, two points from safety, and Stabæk, once again, are bottom of the table, eleven points from safety and with only six games left to save their season. Their next three fixtures see them playing Tromsø, Hønefoss and Viking, and, after a very poor season that never really started for them, the relegation that has been staring them in the face for so much of this season could well be confirmed for the 2008 league winners by the end of the month.