As we enter the last international break of what has been a fantastic and eventful 2012 Tippeligaen season, there’s been plenty of change yet again at the top of the table. With five games spread over the next six weeks left to play, the top three remains as close as ever, with Molde, Rosenborg and Strømgodset all battling it out for the fiercely fought league crown.
It was Strømgodset who kicked off the weekend when they travelled to the capital on Friday evening to take on a Vålerenga side that had won their last three out of four league games, albeit against lower table opponents. Strømgodset, starting the weekend in second place, knew that victory in Oslo was required as they entered the final sixth of the season, and with only two wins since the start of August, and, sandwiched between a fast approaching Rosenborg and a comfortably in-form Molde at the top of the table, Ronny Deila’s side were all too aware of the situation they found themselves in. It only took Abdisalam Ibrahim fifteen minutes to put a smile of both joy and relief on the faces of the Strømgodset fans when he put the away side ahead, but a determined Vålerenga side fought back well and were justly rewarded for their efforts when nineteen-year-old Chuma Anene – starting for only the second time this season after returning from being loaned out to Adeccoligaen side Ullensaker/Kisa – fired in an equaliser with little under fifteen minutes left to play of the second half.
Ahead of their do-or-die clash against Molde in two weeks time, Strømgodset will be painfully aware that a draw this weekend just simply was not good enough at this stage of the season, with every point dropped leading to potential catastrophe. And with Molde seeing off second-to-bottom-place Sandnes Ulf 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, the points dropped really did hit them hard. In the second consecutive game played under awful conditions for Sandnes Ulf, Matthias Moström put Molde ahead in front of over 8,000 fans after just three minutes of play, with Jo Inge Berget firing in from the penalty spot eighteen minutes later after Vegard Aanestad cut down Joshua Gatt in a crowded and partly-underwater penalty area. The away side, stuck in the relegation zone and two points behind both fourteenth-place Fredrikstad and thirteenth-place Sogndal before this weekend, initiated a comeback late on in the second half, with goals from Tommy Høiland and Anel Raskaj coming in quick succession with five minutes left to play, but Vegard Forren grabbed the win for Molde just a minute later with a great free-kick from the edge of the box that found the top left-hand corner of the net. A heartbreaking result for struggling Sandnes Ulf, but one that was desperately important for Molde, confirming that they would be securely top of the table for yet another week.
A poor weekend was made even worse for Strømgodset by Rosenborg’s 1-0 away win against Odd Grenland on Sunday afternoon, meaning that the side from Drammen not only missed out on moving to the top of the table, but also dropped to third place. A single seventy-third minute goal from Rade Prica – his ninth in the league this season – was enough for Rosenborg to claim their fourth win in their last five league games. The thirty-two-year-old Swedish striker has now scored a magnificent fifty-five goals for Rosenborg since joining the side in 2009 after a poor stay at Sunderland. And, incredibly, Rosenborg have only lost one game in which Prica has been on the score sheet, proving his worth to the Tippeligaen giants, especially with five of the most important league games fast-approaching.
With the top three sides relatively isolated from the rest of the table, the fourth to eighth-place spots are still being hotly contested with only five points separating the five sides. Tromsø (still with a game in hand over the rest of the Tippeligaen sides, bar Sandnes Ulf) confirmed that they would remain in fourth place for another round when they beat bottom-of-the-table Stabæk 1-0 in a tricky encounter away from home. Veteran Ole Martin Årst grabbed the game’s only goal and his 100th Tippeligaen goal when the thirty-eight-year-old side footed his way to a century after a well-produced one-two with teammate Magnus Andersen. Stabæk’s Franck Boli hit the post soon after as the home side desperately looked for a equaliser, but a frustrating day ended in yet another defeat for the league’s bottom side; they have now won just twice in their last ten games. Sitting eleven points from safety at the bottom of the table, failure to win against Hønefoss when the two sides meet on the 21st could spell the end of Stabæk’s hopes for Tippeligaen survival.
Brann overtook Vålerenga to move up to fifth place when they beat Hønefoss 3-2 on Monday evening, with two very late goals from two very young players helping them to come back from being 2-1 down with little over three minutes of normal time left to play. Fredrik Nordkvelle’s forty-second minute goal gave Brann a half-time lead before Mikkel Vendelbo and Kevin Beugre fired Hønefoss in front with quarter an hour left to play. But, the stars of tomorrow, seventeen-year-old Bård Finne and twenty-year-old Kristoffer Larsen, scored once each in six minutes in the final moments of the match for Brann’s third league win in their last five games, and their first since their shock defeat to Adeccoligaen side Hødd in the Norwegian Cup semi-final at the end of last month.
With only one point separating Brann and Vålerenga, both seventh-place Haugesund and eighth-place Viking are tied on thirty-seven points, just one point behind Vålerenga themselves. A 1-0 home win for Haugesund against Fredrikstad thanks to a last-minute goal from Geir Ludvig Fevang was enough to send them above Viking after the latter were only able to pick up a single point against Aalesund when the two teams drew 1-1 in Stavanger. Eighteen-year-old Veton Berisha put Viking ahead after half an hour with his seventh of the season, but Jo Nymo Matland cancelled out the youngster’s goal seven minutes after the restart when the defender scored only his second ever goal for the club with a beautifully-curled free-kick that ricocheted off the bar and over the line in spectacular fashion. Aalesund currently sit eight points clear of the relegation zone, and, despite being without a win since their 2-0 home victory against Hønefoss at the start of September, coach Kjetil Rekdal does not believe that his side are in any danger of being sucked into the relegation battle. He does have a good point, as, despite having an injury and illness-ravaged season, the sides immediately surrounding Aalesund are having a poor time themselves; nearest challengers Odd Grenland, one point behind Aalesund, have only picked up two points in their last four matches, whilst Lillestrøm, a further one point behind, have won only once in their last five.
Sogndal, however, have now gone unbeaten in three after they picked up a much-needed three points in their 1-0 home win against Lillestrøm, moving them just one point behind this weekend’s opponents in thirteenth place. The home side left it extremely late though, with Senegalese striker Malick Mane scoring in the ninety-fourth minute with the last kick off the game in what has been a disappointing season for him since joining from Sandefjord after a season on loan with Kazakhstani side FC Aktobe, in which he netted twelve times in twenty-nine matches, compared to only twice in twenty-five matches for Sogndal.
At the end of Round 25, Molde lead the way for the third round in a row, extending their lead to two points. A fourth win in their last five games means that Rosenborg climb up to second place, replacing a mediocre Strømgodset side that drops to third, one point behind. Six points behind, fourth place remains taken by Tromsø, and the side from the far north are three points ahead of fifth-place Brann with a game in hand. Vålerenga drop to sixth, one point behind, whilst seventh and eighth-place sides Haugesund and Viking, respectively, are both tied on thirty-seven points. Hønefoss are six points behind in ninth after going without a win in eight games, and Aalesund move to just one point behind them in tenth. Poor results for Odd Grenland mean that they drop to eleventh with twenty-nine points, whilst a similar situation means that Lillestrøm lie one point and one place behind them. Two important wins in their last five league games means that Sogndal end the round only a single point behind Lillestrøm, now three points ahead of Fredrikstad who suffered their second defeat in two weeks. Sandnes Ulf remain two points behind in the relegation zone – but have a game in hand – and Stabæk, possibly just ninety minutes of game time away from relegation, remain bottom with a mere thirteen points from a possible seventy-five.