After Molde secured their second consecutive Tippeligaen title last weekend with a 1-0 home win against Hønefoss, the final round of the 2012 season was concerned primarily with the battle to avoid relegation. With Hønefoss, Sandnes Ulf, Sogndal and Fredrikstad all still unsafe with just one game left to play, the last day of the season was certainly going to be intense, to say the least…
Fredrikstad, sitting second-to-bottom before kick off, arguably had the toughest task of the four sides, hosting a Molde side that were not only on a high after winning their second league title in as many years but were also unbeaten in their last nine league encounters. Despite sitting only one point behind Sogndal, an inferior goal difference meant that a win was the only option for Fredrikstad if they were going to have any hope at all of regaining a place in Tippeligaen next year. And, to their credit, Fredrikstad pushed the champions all the way, but their hard work was undone with mere minutes left to play when Hans Erik Ramberg was shown a straight red card for his challenge on Jo Inge Berget who was clean through on goal after Fredrikstad goalkeeper Jon Masalin had joined the rest of the outfield squad in a last-ditch attempt to score from a corner. Davy Claude Angan stepped up to convert the penalty kick to secure a final win of the season for Molde, before Daniel Berg Hestad wrapped up the win with a goal of his own three minutes later after Daniel Chima Chukwu had hit the post moments before. The defeat confirmed that Fredrikstad would be playing in Adeccoligaen next season for the first time since 2010, ending a poor season that saw them lose eighteen times, conceding a hefty fifty-nine goals in the process. But, with two of arguably their best players, Tarik Elyounoussi and Etzaz Hussain, leaving for Rosenborg and Molde, respectively, during the middle of the season, remaining safe for another year of Tippeligaen football was never going to be easy.
Despite Fredrikstad occupying the last remaining relegation spot, Hønefoss, Sandnes Ulf and Sogndal still weren’t safe as the equally dreaded and equally fought-over relegation play-off place was still there to ensnare any of the three sides. Sogndal, starting the weekend in the play-off spot, hosted a Brann side that sat in sixth place but had lost their last three league games in a row. If Sogndal could extend that to four, then they would guarantee their safety. And they did just that, Ulrik Flo and Ørjan Hopen scoring a goal each in either half to send Sogndal up to twelfth place, their best finish in the top flight since 2003.
Their win sent Sandnes Ulf down into the relegation play-off place, and that’s where they stayed when the final whistle was blown at Color Line Stadion after a 3-1 loss to eleventh-place Aalesund. Leke James put the home side ahead after only thirteen minutes with a simple side-footed finish from a Tremaine Stewart cross, and two goals in eight minutes starting with Jo Nymo Matland’s stunning free kick and ending with Lars Fuhre’s coolly finished strike just before the hour mark made sure that the win was as good as certain for Aalesund. Morten Bertolt pulled one back for Sandnes Ulf five minutes later but it wasn’t enough to initiate a comeback, last year’s second-place Adeccoligaen side having to settle for a fourteenth place finish in their first ever Tippeligaen campaign. They will meet Ullensaker/Kisa, winners of the Adeccoligaen promotion play-off final against Bodø/Glimt, both home and away in the relegation play-off tie next week to determine whether or not they can continue their Tippeligaen dream.
Despite losing 4-1 at home to Rosenborg in the heaviest defeat of the weekend and, incredibly, being unable to pick up a league win in their last thirteen games of the season, results elsewhere meant that last year’s Adeccoligaen winners Hønefoss were able to secure another year of Tippeligaen football as they finished one point ahead of Sandnes Ulf in thirteenth place. Rosenborg went into the half-time break a goal ahead thanks to Stefan Strandberg’s twenty-sixth minute header – his first goal of the season – and Daniel Fredheim Holm made it 2-0 twelve minutes into the second half before Rade Prica chipped in over Hønefoss goalkeeper Steve Clark to make it 3-0 with twenty minutes left to play. Finnish midfielder Riku Riski scored Hønefoss’ first and only goal of the game (as well as his tenth in what has been an impressive first season in Norwegian football for him) five minutes later, but Per Verner Rønning, replacing Strandberg only two minutes earlier, headed in to extend Rosenborg’s lead to three goals once again, finishing any hopes of a Hønefoss comeback and ending their season on a high of sorts after a poor previous three games that saw them lose to Molde, Strømgodset and Fredrikstad and miss out on a twenty-third top flight title.
Strømgodset confirmed their second place finish in what has been a wonderful year for the Drammen-based club with a comfortable 3-1 win over last-place Stabæk. Ola Kamara put them ahead after six minutes with a coolly executed chip over Stabæk goalkeeper Mande Sayouba, but Stabæk, surprisingly, equalised only seven minutes later through Veigar Pall Gunnarsson with a beautiful strike twenty yards out that left Adam Larsen Kwarasey with no chance in the Strømgodset goalmouth. It didn’t take long for a noticeably stronger Strømgodset side to regain their lead, however, with Peter Kovács picking up his thirteenth goal of the season after twenty-four minutes when Abdisalam Ibrahim’s shot deflected off his foot and headed towards the far post, the big Hungarian striker beating Sayouba to the ball to slide in and make it 2-1. He then scored his fourteenth and the last goal of the game two minutes before the end with a well-finished half volley from the top right-hand corner of the penalty area. A wonderful first season back in Norway for the veteran striker sees him finish the year joint-top of the top goalscorers list with Tromsø’s Zdenĕk Ondrášek.
It wasn’t such a good final day of the season for Tromsø though as they lost 1-0 to Odd Grenland thanks to a successfully converted penalty kick by Morten Fevang just before half time after Adem Güven was tripped in the area. Despite only managing to pick up one win in their last five games of the season, the side from the great white north were able to finish in a respectable fourth place, six points behind a Europa League qualifying position. They were also one game away from an unbeaten season at home, but Fevang’s single strike undid all of their hard work.
Thanks to a fantastic surge in the second half of the season that saw them lose only twice in their final seventeen games, Viking finished equal on points with Tromsø in fifth after ending the season with yet another win, this time a 2-1 victory at home to eighth-place Vålerenga. Canadian striker Tosaint Ricketts scored his first goal for Vålerenga since moving from former Romanian side Politehnica Timişoara in August five minutes into the second half, but Viking hit back quickly, scoring twice in just four minutes with Martin Ørnskov’s header only two minutes after the restart opening the scoring and another fine header soon after from King Osei Gyan wrapping up the win for Viking. After finishing in a disappointing eleventh place last season with only thirty-seven points, this season’s fifth-place finish is the side’s best since 2007 when they finished in third and qualified for the first qualifying round of the 2008-2009 UEFA Cup, eventually losing 2-1 on aggregate to finish side Honka in the second qualifying round after previously beating FK Vėtra of Lithuania.
Thanks to Vålerenga’s defeat, Haugesund were able to overtake them at the last moment and finish equal on points with Brann in seventh place after a goalless draw with a Lillestrøm side that, after poor performances for the vast majority of the season, finished their 2012 campaign with just one defeat in their last seven matches, picking up an impressive 3-2 victory away to Brann as well as 6-0 thrashing of Stabæk at home. Their late good form sees them finish the season in a respectable ninth position, equal on points with tenth-place Odd Grenland and just two points behind Vålerenga; their best league finish, and first in the top ten, since 2007.
As yet another action-packed and utterly fascinating year of Tippeligaen football comes to an end, we finally have time to properly reflect on what we have learnt this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, often tipped by many for future success in England, has lead his Molde side to their second league title in as many years, winning the Manager of the Season award in the process. But, was it deserved? Despite all of the good that he has done – and he sure has achieved a lot worthy of great praise at Molde, there’s no doubt about it – my vote goes to Strømgodset’s Ronny Deila for his tactical determination, tactical wizardry, and overall brilliance since taking over as head coach in 2008. If it wasn’t for their mediocre form at times in the latter half of the season, the league title could easily have been theirs. But, never fear, as the 2013 season will be back before you know it, and I for one cannot wait to see what a hugely impressive Strømgodset side brings to the table. Expect fierce fights at both the top and bottom, as Tippeligaen gets even closer yet again…
- Odd Grenland
- Sandnes Ulf