After a quick pause for the last international break of the season in which the Norwegian national side picked up a well-earned victory over Cyprus and an important draw away to Switzerland, everyone’s focus was back on one of the closest-fought and tense ends to the domestic season in recent memory when title chasers Rosenborg kicked off the weekend’s action at home to Sandnes Ulf on Friday evening.
Just two points behind leaders Molde, who were set to play third-place Strømgodset in a tricky encounter two days later, with five games to go, a home tie against relegation-bound Sandnes Ulf at this crucial point of the season must have been seen as the ultimate blessing for Jan Jönsson and his men, and a converted penalty from Bořek Dočkal (albeit under questionable circumstances) two minutes before the whistle blew for half time and a fourth goal this season from captain Mikael Dorsin eight minutes from the end secured Rosenborg’s third league win in a row and sent them to the top of the table for the first time since the middle of May.
Now all they could do was wait. Sunday’s late kick-off between Molde and Strømgodset was tipped to be one of the games of the season, the prize for winning promising to be deliciously sweet for both sides. At this stage last year Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Molde had already secured the Tippeligaen title but going into their must-win clash in Drammen they found themselves sandwiched between two strong sides that both could run away with first place at the last minute. Jo Inge Berget relieved the pressure on Solskjær after quarter of an hour when he put the away side 1-0 ahead after a misplaced header from full back Lars-Christopher Vilsvik unleashed him down the left hand side of the box before he coolly placed the ball out of the reach of Adam Larsen Kwarasey in the Strømgodset goalmouth. The home side – still unbeaten on their artificial home turf this season – fought back admirably and dominated possession for the rest of the first half, and they slowly but surely took advantage of Molde’s sloppiness in possession and were rewarded with mere seconds left on the clock when Ola Kamara headed the ball down into the path of Jarl Andre Storbæk who swung his body and volleyed the ball past reserve goalkeeper Ole Söderberg to force a hard-fought and well-earned point for his side. The point means that Strømgodset will stay in third place for another week, three points behind both Molde and Rosenborg, the league’s giants and winners in 2010 sitting ahead of last year’s champions thanks to a superior goal difference. But with the top two sides playing each other in what promises to be yet another fantastic match next Sunday, who knows who will be in the driving seat this time next week…
With a game in hand and, like Strømgodset, still unbeaten at home this season, fourth-place Tromsø are determined to make this year’s battle for the title a four horse race as they continue to assert their dominance on a multitude of opponents week after week, and this weekend wasn’t any different as they comfortably saw off Haugesund 2-0 at home in a snow-filled Alfheim Stadion to move four points behind Strømgodset. After a goalless first half, Swiss striker Aleksandar Prijović scored his first league goal of the season for Tromsø since moving on loan from FC Sion in July just seven minutes after the restart, before Ole Martin Årst, having only been on the pitch for mere minutes, doubled the home side’s lead and wrapped up their fourth home win in a row with little over quarter of an hour left to play, the veteran striker powering his way through the Haugesund defence before heading in after his initial effort was stopped by the feet of goalkeeper Per Morten Kristiansen. With four points separating Tromsø and another year of European football and five games left to close the gap, the omens look good for last year’s second-place side as they have now won their last seven out of eight league games compared to Strømgodset’s two league wins during the same period. However, Strømgodset arguably have the easier end to the season, with their hosting of Rosenborg in two weeks time being their only real threat of defeat as visits to Haugesund and Sandnes Ulf, as well as a final day home clash with bottom-of-the-table Stabæk, should result in victories if Ronny Deila’s side are able to exert the power and tactical brilliance that they did so well at the start of the year. Tromsø, on the other hand, face tough games against Vålerenga, Molde and Brann, as well as finishing the season at home to Odd Grenland, but their game in hand away to Sandnes Ulf could prove to crucial, especially if Strømgodset slip up in any of their three “easier” ties.
Thanks to their fantastic turnaround after a poor start to the season, Brann find currently themselves three points behind Tromsø in fifth place, and the three points that they secured in a seven-goal thriller away to Fredrikstad could prove mightily important in their quest to equal last season’s fourth-place finish. However, the hosts, sitting in the relegation play-off place and desperate for points, hit the back of the net first and managed to do so after only three minutes through Robert Stene after being set up by Nenad Srećković, but the visitors equalised twenty minutes later thanks to a similar back post tap-in by the club’s top goalscorer this season, Kim Ojo. Fredrikstad went ahead once again only three minutes later, Martin Pusic showing great control and composure before slotting the ball past Piotr Leciejewski, but Brann replied yet again, this time through an Erik Huseklepp penalty kick, and they went ahead for the first time in the match just before the half time break when Huseklepp set up Kristoffer Larsen for his second goal in as many games. Fredrikstad’s fighting spirit continued after the restart and, in a game where three really is the magic number, they scored the equaliser and their third goal only – yes, you guessed it – three minutes after the restart, Ole Jørgen Halvorsen converting in front of goal from another Srećković cross. It looked like the hosts were going to hold on and pick up their first point of this month but disaster struck deep into injury time when Andreas Landgren inadvertently turned the ball into the back of his own net after Jon Masalin parried Chukwuma Akabueze’s shot into the feet of the unexpecting Fredrikstad defender. Now without a win in their last three games, Fredrikstad travel to second-to-bottom-place Sandnes Ulf next weekend knowing that a defeat will send them down into the relegation zone, leaving them with a tough task to escape it with games against Odd Grenland, Rosenborg and Molde following.
One positive that Fredrikstad could take from this weekend, however, was their nearest rivals’ 2-1 loss away to Viking. Sogndal, currently sitting three points ahead in safety in the form of thirteenth place, had been unbeaten in their last three league matches before this weekend, beating both Tromsø and Lillestrøm at home whilst drawing away to Hønefoss, but Viking, now unbeaten in five themselves, proved too much for them with Johan Lædre Bjørdal and substitute Vidar Nisja scoring in either half to secure the win, Nisja’s curled winner from the edge of the box eight minutes from the final whistle cancelling out Ulrik Flo’s forty-eighth minute half-volleyed equaliser.
Twelfth-place Lillestrøm took advantage of Sogndal’s loss and moved one point further ahead of them when they drew 1-1 with Odd Grenland at home at Åråsen Stadion on Saturday afternoon. Petter Vaagan Moen put the hosts ahead after thirty-eight minutes with a bending free kick and, after holding Odd Grenland back for the majority of the match, Lillestrøm seemed to be on course for their first win in almost a month, but substitute and former Tottenham and Valencia striker Dag Alexander Olsen rescued a point for the visitors two minutes before the end of the match when he turned beautifully and fired in past Lillestrøm goalkeeper Sead Ramović to score his first goal for the club since moving back to Norway from Spain at the end of August.
Odd Grenland’s point moves them to just two points behind Hønefoss, last year’s Adeccoligaen winners currently sitting in tenth place after they were unable to find the back of the net against bottom-of-the-table Stabæk when the two sides met on Sunday afternoon. Hønefoss are now without a win in nine games, a stark contrast to their six game unbeaten streak at the start of the season, and the pressure seems to be getting to the players, with American goalkeeper Steve Clark’s expletive rant in the direction of the Stabæk fans after the final whistle a clear reflection of how the Hønefoss players are reacting to their side’s poor recent form. As for Stabæk, the draw moves them one point nearer to Sandnes Ulf, but with there being eight points separating the two sides and ten points separating them with Fredrikstad, realistically, anything less than a point against Viking next weekend will spell the end of Stabæk’s Tippeligaen journey and will see them back in Adeccoligaen for the first time since 2005.
After going behind just before the half hour mark through Mohammed Fellah, Aalesund fought back to win 3-1 against Vålerenga and move up to ninth place in front of a crowd of just over 9,000 at Color Line Stadion on Sunday afternoon. The away side went into the half time break a goal ahead thanks to Fellah’s edge-of-the-box strike after a mix-up between Aalesund goalkeeper Sten Grytebust and his defence, although it could have been two, however, but Morten Berre’s headed effort from a Fellah corner was disallowed after the referee believed that the ball gone out of play before it swung back in and onto the his head. Aalesund took advantage of only being a single goal down when Michael Barrantes fired them into the lead just four minutes after the restart, and the Costa Rican was on hand to score again little over quarter of an hour later when he fired in another perfectly-placed long-range effort. The Tangoshirts then wrapped up the win six minutes later, Nigerian teenage striker Leke James scoring his first league goal for the club and his first goal in all competitions since his brace against Albanian side KF Tirana in the Europa League back in July. After four games without a win – including three defeats in a row – the three points mean that Aalesund move eleven points clear of the relegation zone and nine points clear of the relegation play-off place, indicating that Kjetil Rekdal’s side are now as good as safe from the threats of relegation and will be playing Tippeligaen football once again next season.
At the end of Round 26, Rosenborg move back to the top of the table, equal on points with reigning champions Molde but with a greater goal difference that might prove to be a crucial advantage in the final games of the year. Strømgodset, once the league leaders for so much of this season, remain in third place, three points behind Molde and four points ahead of a fast-approaching Tromsø side that are in good form and still have a game in hand to play. Brann sit three points behind the northerners in fifth place, whilst Viking are a further two points behind in sixth with forty points overall after moving up from eighth thanks to this weekend’s victory over Sogndal. Vålerenga drop to seventh-place with thirty-eight points and Haugesund sit just one point behind them in eighth. Aalesund, four points behind, move up to ninth after their win and Hønefoss’ poor recent form sees them slip down to tenth, one point behind Aalesund and two points ahead of eleventh-place Odd Grenland. Lillestrøm and Sogndal remain in twelfth and thirteenth place with twenty-nine and twenty-seven points, respectively, whilst Fredrikstad stay in the relegation play-off place after suffering their third league defeat in a row. Sandnes Ulf, now without a win in their last six games, remain two points behind Fredrikstad in the relegation zone, and Stabæk, so deathly close to relegation, sit on the bottom of the table with just fourteen points.