With Stabæk’s sad-but-unsurprising relegation to Adeccoligaen being confirmed at the hands of a 1-0 defeat at home to Viking last weekend, a fierce relegation battle was still in full swing this weekend as, technically, most of the lower half of the table still remained in danger of possible relegation with just three games of the season left to play.
Fredrikstad, sitting second-to-bottom after their hefty 5-1 loss to Sandnes Ulf, kicked off this weekend’s action at home to an Odd Grenland side who, eight points clear of the relegation zone in tenth place, were not yet mathematically safe from the perils of the drop. Victory at Fredrikstad Stadion would confirm it though, and after their 4-0 thrashing of Hønefoss last Sunday, coupled with Fredrikstad’s four league defeats in a row, the omens looked good for the side from Skien. However, they got off to the worst possible start when Ole Jørgen Halvorsen put the hosts ahead after only ten minutes, Nenad Srećković doubling Fredrikstad’s lead twenty-five minutes later with a beautifully curled free kick. A Martin Pusic header after forty-seven minutes extended the home side’s first-half lead to three, and Halvorsen then picked up his second twenty-two minutes after the restart when he linked up with Robert Stene on the edge of the box. At 4-0 down, any sort of Odd Grenland comeback looked unlikely, but they pushed hard and picked up two consolation goals in the last fifteen minutes of the game, Adem Güven heading in after seventy-seven minutes before Simen Brenne hit the back of the net himself eight minutes later. An absolutely vital win for Fredrikstad, the three points claimed mean that they would see themselves back out of the relegation zone at the end of the weekend unless Sandnes Ulf were able to pick up three points themselves against Hønefoss.
And, luckily for the Red Shorts, they weren’t able to do so; a 1-1 draw was all that Sandnes Ulf could manage when they travelled to AKA Arena to take on their title rivals of last season. It wasn’t an easy task though by any means, an Aksel Skjølsvik penalty ten minutes before the end of the game luckily cancelling out Heiner Mora’s forty-sixth minute successful strike. After their midweek game against Tromsø was postponed once again, Sandnes Ulf still have a game in hand over Fredrikstad, who sit just one point ahead of them. However, with Tromsø being in fine form as of late and a trip to Strømgodset also on the agenda, Sandnes Ulf’s only real chance of points comes on the final day of the season when they travel to Aalesund. With Fredrikstad facing arguably tougher opponents in Rosenborg and Molde, the battle between the two sides looks like it’s going to go right to the wire…
Equally a part of the relegation battle is Sogndal, but they were given a massive boost on Monday evening when a Hannu Patronen header grabbed all three points for them deep into injury time after a hard and evenly-fought encounter between them and Vålerenga. The win puts them four points ahead of Fredrikstad at the end of the weekend, and with a trip to Stabæk to look forward to next week, their safety looks to be only ninety minutes away from being guaranteed.
After finally being relegated last weekend, you’d think that things couldn’t get any worse for Stabæk. However, Lillestrøm found a way to inflict even more pain on the Bærum club when they put six goals past them in a humiliating display from a side that has been so consistently poor all season long. Stabæk managed to only concede one goal in the first half, Petter Vaagan Moen hitting the back of the net after twenty-two minutes, but Thorstein Helstad doubled Lillestrøm’s lead just seven minutes after the restart before two goals in three minutes from substitute Pálmi Rafn Pálmason with little over ten minutes left to play put the home side 4-0 ahead. With just two minutes left to play, Mathis Bolly broke down the centre of the field before firing in off the post to make it 5-0, Fredrik Gulbrandsen then outrunning Stabæk defender Kim André Hunstad before chipping the ball over Mande Sayouba to complete a devastating win for Lillestrøm moving them up to tenth and safe from relegation.
Thanks to their result and Sandnes Ulf’s inability to beat Hønefoss, ninth-place Aalesund too mathematically confirmed their place in next year’s Tippeligaen when they held on to draw 2-2 with Haugesund. Michael Barrantes put them ahead after eleven minutes with his ninth league goal of the season before Leke James scored his third goal in as many games just over twenty minutes later with a well-controlled side-footed volley at the far post. The scoreline stayed that way until deep into the second half when Michael Haukås pulled one back for Haugesund with little over ten minutes left to play after he muscled his way past Jo Nymo Matland in the Aalesund defence, and Geir Ludvig Fevang rescued a point for the out-of-form side with mere minutes left on the clock when he hammered the ball in past Sten Grytebust to pick up Haugesund’s first point since the beginning of last month.
At the top of the table, things remain just as tight as they do at the bottom; back in first place thanks to their 2-0 win at home to Rosenborg last weekend, Molde guaranteed that they would remain on top for another week when they picked up a crucial point away to a Tromsø side that still remain unbeaten at home all season. The snowy, impenetrable fortress of Alfheim looked as if it might finally be breached when Daniel Chima Chukwu took advantage of a wayward pass by Tromsø goalkeeper Benny Lekström to put the reigning champions ahead after only four minutes, but Tromsø, in typical fashion, fought back and were rewarded with fifteen minutes to go when Aleksandar Prijović picked up the ball at the back post from a Magnus Andersen cross before firing in past Espen Bugge Pettersen to even the scoreline and force a sharing of the points between the two sides.
Viking picked up their third home win in a row and moved equal on points with Tromsø in fifth place when they beat sixth-place Brann 2-1 with an impressive performance at home when the two Western rivals met on Sunday afternoon. It only took Vidar Nisja two minutes to fire Viking into the lead, and the home side managed to hold on to their one goal advantage until the half time break, but it could’ve been two as André Danielsen had his goal disallowed for offside after thirty-six minutes. Not long after the restart Veton Berisha went just inches wide of doubling the home side’s lead before Johan Lædre Bjørdal managed to put the ball into the back of the net himself, but, unfortunately, it was his own, the Viking defender attempting to clear Erik Huseklepp’s low cross but instead sliding in and volleying past Rune Jarstein. However, it only took Viking five minutes to regain the lead and score what would eventually be the winner, Martin Øskov rising high above the Brann defence to head in from a Danielsen corner kick to pick up all three points.
Arguably the most important game of the weekend was Sunday evening’s clash between second and third: Strømgodset against Rosenborg. With the two sides level on points before this weekend, defeat for either side would all but guarantee the end of their title chances. A goalless first half turned into an action-packed twelve minutes when Rade Prica put Rosenborg ahead after sixty-four minutes with a well-struck finish from the right hand side of the penalty area. Strømgodset hit back almost immediately though when Ola Kamara coolly converted a beautifully placed lofted ball forward from Razak Nuhu. And then nine minutes later Marienlyst exploded in celebration as the tall ginger figure of Hungarian veteran Péter Kovács threw his body up and above the packed penalty area of Rosenborg defenders and headed Strømgodset to within one point of Molde. Now unbeaten in their last five league games, Strømgodset travel next weekend to a Sandnes Ulf side that are desperate for points in the hope of avoiding relegation, the title-chasers then finishing their season at home to already-relegated Stabæk. With Molde facing Hønefoss and Fredrikstad – two games that they really should win – whilst also hosting Steaua Bucureşti in the Europa League on Thursday, the title is surely Molde’s to lose, but, in typical Tippeligaen fashion, it certainly could either way…
At the end of Round 28, Molde remain top of the table, now one point ahead of a Strømgodset side that are equally full of drive and momentum as we enter the last two games of the season. Rosenborg, their title hopes as good as over, sit three points behind in third, whilst Tromsø remain a further six points behind them in fourth, now equal on points with Viking. Two losses in a row mean that Brann remain in sixth with Vålerenga still just one point behind them in seventh. Haugesund are sandwiched relatively safely in between Vålerenga and Aalesund in eighth with thirty-eight points and Aalesund’s thirty-five points now see them equal on points with tenth-place Lillestrøm. Odd Grenland remain just behind them but drop to eleventh, with Hønefoss in twelfth with thirty-three points and Sogndal a further two points behind them in thirteenth after their vital win this weekend. Fredrikstad remain in trouble but climb up to the relegation play-off place thanks to their win, with Sandnes Ulf’s draw only good enough to see them sit just one point behind in fifteenth. And, of course, as always, already-relegated Stabæk remain bottom.