With the Norwegian national team kicking off their 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign against Iceland and Slovenia this Friday and next Tuesday, respectively, this weekend’s games were the last chance for the sixteen Tippeligaen teams to win points before play resumes in two weeks’ time after the international break. And with both the top and bottom of the table becoming closer as each week passes – not to mention the ever-cramped midsection – every point counts as we enter the final two months of the season.
Vålerenga kicked off the weekend with a comfortable 4-0 victory over struggling Sandnes Ulf at Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo on Friday evening. It only took the home side ten minutes to go ahead, Simon Andreas Larsen placing the ball into an open net after Pape Maly Diamanka, on loan from Rayo Vallecano, saw his shot beat Sandnes Ulf goalkeeper Aslak Falch only to ricochet off the far post and into the path of Larsen. Poor Sandnes Ulf defending then allowed newly acquired Torgeir Børven to break through and double Vålerenga’s lead six minutes later with his first since joining the club from Odd Grenland. Things were then made even worse only five minutes after when Mohammed Fellah made it 3-0 with a beautifully-struck shot from twenty five yards. The scoreline stayed that way until midway through the second half when substitute Aaron Samuel Olanare scored on his debut to make it 4-0, the Nigerian teenager taking advantage of a defensive mix-up between Edier Frejd and Ronny Espedal before calmly placing the ball past Falch to wrap-up a great win for the Oslo side.
Saturday’s only game saw Fredrikstad pick up a hugely important three points when a last-minute penalty helped them to a 2-1 victory away to fellow strugglers Lillestrøm. After a goalless first half which saw Fredrikstad’s Nenad Srećković have to leave the field after only fourteen minutes due to a nasty clash of heads with Fredrik Stoor, the home side went ahead through veteran Thorstein Helstad after fifty-two minutes when he headed in to pick up his second goal in as many games. But, the lead was only to last five minutes as Srećković’s replacement, Zlatko Tripić, on loan from Molde, equalised with a well-placed bouncing shot from just outside the penalty area. The scores remained level until the eighty-eighth minute when Martin Pusic was fouled in front of goal, the Austrian then stepping up and scoring the penalty himself to secure the second-to-bottom-place side a much needed win with his first goal in his first game for the club since joining from Vålerenga.
After two goalless defeats in a row, Aalesund now find themselves with two wins in a row thanks to their 2-0 home win at home to Hønefoss on Sunday. The away side, now without a win in their last four league games, managed to hold on until the fiftieth minute when Costa Rican midfielder Michael Barrantes picked up his sixth goal of the season and put Aalesund 1-0 ahead with a simple back post tap-in. The home side pushed for another goal and were rewarded for their efforts ten minutes before the end when Tremaine Stewart’s close-range free kick deflected off Jonatan Tollås Nation and past an off-balance Steve Clark to double their lead and win all three points for the boys in orange and blue.
A single late goal was enough to allow Odd Grenland to pick up their second 1-0 win in the last two weeks when they travelled Haugesund on Sunday afternoon. Niklas Gunnarsson picked up the winner with only five minutes to go when he tapped in simply after Adem Güven connected with a Herolind Shala free kick at the back post, heading the ball across goal into Gunnarsson’s path. To make matters worse, the home side put the ball into the back of the net themselves five minutes into extra time, only to have debutant Henrik Kjelsrud Johansen’s headed goal ruled out for a push on Odd Grenland goalkeeper André Hansen. Interestingly, Hansen stated after the match that the decision was questionable, with Johansen, understandably, livid at the referee’s costly decision.
Tromsø too only needed a single goal to pick up their third league win in a row when they beat Viking away from home to overtake them in the league standings. After the disappointment of exiting the Europa League on goal difference to Partizan Belgrade last week, Per-Mathias Høgmo’s side will be desperately looking for strong performances in these final weeks to help push them towards the top of the table and into the qualifying positions for next year’s tournament, and this weekend’s win saw them climb to fourth place, not too far behind Rosenborg in third. Thirty-eight-year-old Ole Martin Årst scored the winner and broke Viking’s seven-match unbeaten streak after only fourteen minutes when he sent the ball through Viking goalkeeper Rune Jarstein’s legs from close-range. The goal was the veteran’s ninety-ninth Norwegian Premier League goal and proved to be the vital one in a game of slick Viking attacking and strong Tromsø defending.
As the battle for first place remains as close as ever, out-of-form Strømgodset were hoping for a return to winning ways when they travelled to strugglers Sogndal on Sunday afternoon. However, despite the home side losing their last four games prior to this weekend, Strømgodset, now without a win in five matches, were only able to pick up a single point. They were lucky not to go down to ten men after only one minute when Lars Sætra collided with striker Ricardo Santos, who was clear through on goal. Luckily for Strømgodset, the defender only received a yellow card. Mohammed Keita put them ahead after seventy-three minutes with a fine strike from just outside the left-hand corner of the penalty area but Sogndal responded quickly and confidently and equalised only two minutes later through Ricardo Santos, the Brazilian heading in from close range after Strømgodset goalkeeper Lars Cramer failed to deal with a Ulrik Flo header. The game ended 1-1, the point sending putting Strømgodset on equal points with league leaders Molde, unless they picked up a point against Brann in Sunday’s evening game…
But, it wasn’t to be. Despite going into the break 1-0 up, Molde had, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær elegantly put it, a second half that “made them look like little boys”, resulting in a 4-1 loss away to Brann. The away side’s only goal came just before the half-hour mark, Davy Claude Angan picking up his twelfth goal of the season when he perfectly placed his shot from ten yards out into the tightest of gaps between Brann goalkeeper Piotr Leciejewski and the post. After the break, it only took two minutes for the Brann onslaught to start, substandard defending allowing Amin Askar to muscle his way onto the ball before turning and firing past Espen Bugge Pettersen. Simen Wangberg then made it 2-1 to Brann twenty minutes later when poor defending again from a corner allowed him to head in from the far post. With one minute of normal time left to play, Kim Ojo crushed any hopes of a Molde comeback with a well-placed low shot from the edge of the penalty area before he scored again just two minutes later when he broke through the defence and rounded Pettersen before slotting the ball into the back of the net to bag himself his eighth goal of the season and his first brace in almost a year and a quarter. The defeat means that not only did Molde miss out on taking advantage of Strømgodset’s single point away to Sogndal but they also drop to second place, two goals behind Strømgodset on goal difference.
With both Strømgodset and Molde falling victim to two poor results, Rosenborg had the perfect opportunity to close the gap between the three at the top of the table when they travelled to Bærum to play bottom place Stabæk. And that they did, a comfortable 2-0 win proving enough for the giants and putting them just one point behind both Molde and Strømgodset. A competent first half from the home side was ruined four minutes after the break when club legend Steffen Iversen put Rosenborg ahead with a beautiful turn and strike from just inside the penalty area. And his second only five minutes later was just as good; Stabæk goalkeeper Jan Kjell Larsen attempted to throw the ball out quickly to start a Stabæk counter-attack but instead found the thirty-five-year-old striker who controlled the ball with his back to goal, turned sharply and half-volleyed over the head of a fast-retreating Larsen into the centre of the net. The goals then stopped but the incidents certainly didn’t, as Larsen was given a straight red card four minutes from the end when he cut down Tarik Elyounoussi with his feet outside the penalty area. With no substitutions remaining, it was up to midfielder Christer Kleiven to stand guard with the gloves on for the remaining time. Luckily, he wasn’t tested too much by the Rosenborg attack, but the loss means that Stabæk have now only managed two wins in their last ten games. With the end of the season fast approaching, relegation for the first time since 2004 looms ever nearer unless something drastically changes very soon…
At the end of Round 21, Strømgodset return to the top of the table despite only picking up one win in their last five games. Molde drop to second on goal difference after their hefty defeat to Brann, whilst Rosenborg are breathing down both teams’ necks as they sit just one point behind after stretching their unbeaten run to twelve games. Tromsø are in fourth with thirty-three points after their third win in a row, with Brann only one point behind them in fifth. Haugesund, Vålerenga and Viking are all tied on thirty-one points in sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, with Aalesund and Hønefoss in ninth and tenth on twenty-nine points and Odd Grenland one point behind them in eleventh; as always, the middle of the table remains as cramped as ever. Lillestrøm lie four points behind in twelfth, whilst Sogndal occupy the last “safe” place in thirteenth with twenty points. However, Sandnes Ulf, occupying the relegation play-off place in fourteenth, are on twenty points also, only behind Sogndal on goal difference. Fredrikstad remain in the relegation zone in fifteenth with eighteen points, with Stabæk still rock bottom with only ten points.