After going without a win in four games, league leaders Strømgodset would have hoped that their 4-0 thrashing of Aalesund last week was a sign that Lady Luck was beginning to smile down upon them once again as they find themselves leading a fierce battle with both Molde and Rosenborg for the top spot as we reach the end of the season. They travelled to Viking on Friday evening in desperate need of points after only managing two wins in two months, but it wasn’t to be as a seventy-seventh minute header from youngster Veton Berisha meant that the hosts took all three points in a fantastic 3-2 win.
Viking deservedly went ahead after thirty-five minutes through Trond Olsen, and the hosts stayed 1-0 up until ten minutes after the restart when Abdisalam Ibrahim, on loan from Manchester City, scored his first goal for Strømgodset. However, it only took Viking two minutes to go back ahead once again when Makhtar Thioune scored his second goal in two games, this time from the penalty spot after Kim Madsen tripped substitute Veton Berisha just inside the area. After Anders Konradsen beat the Viking defence with wonderful skill and determination to set up Lars Vilsvik, a tap-in from mere inches out by the right back was enough to make it 2-2, but, for the second time in a row, Viking found themselves ahead once again just two minutes later when Veton Berisha scored the all-important winning goal with a header at the back post, securing Viking’s first league win since their 3-0 victory at home to Fredrikstad over five weeks ago.
It’s been an up-and-down 2012 for Lillestrøm; after going eight games without a win at the start of the season, The Canaries picked up five wins and three draws in their next ten games before failing to win in their last four games prior to this weekend’s away tie against Aalesund. However, two goals in either half from Bjorn Helge Riise and Mathis Bolly meant that they picked up their first win since the start of August, which sees them move further away from the dreaded relegation zone. Fredrik Ulvestad scored for Aalesund seven minutes from time, but it will be little consolation as Aalesund now sit only two points ahead of Lillestrøm after losing their last two games in a row, conceding six goals in the process.
Struggling Fredrikstad’s much-needed impressive recent form continues as they beat bottom-of-the-table Stabæk 1-0 away from home on Sunday afternoon to pick up their third league win in a row. Austrian striker Martin Pusic grabbed the only goal of an even but relatively uneventful match with only six minutes left to play when he took advantage of a poor mistake from Stabæk’s young Ivorian goalkeeper Mande Sayouba and simply chipped the ball into the back of an open net to secure all three points for his side.
Sogndal also picked up an important three points when they beat a previously on fire Tromsø side at home by a single goal. After winning their last four league games in a row – including a 5-1 thrashing of Lillestrøm the week before and a 4-0 thumping of Strømgodset last month – Europa League qualification chasers Tromsø would have expected themselves to make it five wins out of five when they travelled to Fosshaugane Campus late on Sunday afternoon, but an eighteenth minute own goal from Saliou Ciss was enough to gift Sogndal their first win in seven games and only their second in their last seventeen after a torrid season has seen the side from the West pick up just five wins out of a possibly twenty three, despite going unbeaten for the first six matches of the season. With must-win games against Hønefoss and Lillestrøm coming up in the next two weeks, Jonas Olsson will be hoping that this weekend’s win will have instilled enough hope and desire in his men to see off their opponents and battle their way out of the relegation danger zone before it’s too late.
It wasn’t such a good day for fellow relegation strugglers Sandnes Ulf, however, as they lost 3-2 away to Haugesund. Christian Gytkjær put the away side up after sixteen minutes with his fourth goal in four games for the club since joining on loan from Danish side Nordsjælland, but Haugesund’s Håvard Storbæk equalised for the home side just three minutes later. Sandnes Ulf went into the break 2-1 up though after Steinthór Thorsteinsson put them ahead once again with seven minutes of the half remaining, but goals from substitute Henrik Kjelsrud Johansen – his first for the club – and Swedish defender David Myrestam after seventy-seven and eighty-five minutes, respectively, meant that Haugesund avoided going three games without a win and made sure that they stayed up with the rest of the sides from fourth to eighth place who are all chasing a top three finish.
After Strømgodset’s defeat to Viking on Friday night, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Molde knew that a point would see them move back to the top of the table once again, and that’s exactly what they got when neither they nor Odd Grenland were able to find the back of the net when the two sides met in Skien on Sunday afternoon. The game could have arguably gone either way with both sides having their fair share of good opportunities in front of goal, but the best chance of the game fell to the home side seven minutes from time when Niklas Gunnarsson rose high to head in from a corner only to find his effort blocked on the line and cleared away by Mattias Moström. There were a few half-hearted appeals from the Odd Grenland players and fans for handball but the referee paid no attention to them and soon after blew his whistle to end a hard-fought game between two evenly matched sides.
Thanks to two very late goals from seventeen-year-old substitute Bård Finne, Brann were just about able to beat Rosenborg 2-1 at home in Bergen in Sunday’s late kick off, ending Rosenborg’s thirteen game unbeaten streak in spectacular fashion. The away side went ahead ten minutes into the second half through John Chibuike and looked like they were on course for a third league win in a row before Finne replaced defender Hassan El Fakiri with seven minutes left to play in a last-gasp attacking change from Brann manager Rune Skarsfjord and equalised within three minutes of being on the pitch. Poor Rosenborg defending and selfless play from Brann striker Kim Ojo then allowed the young substitute to pick up his second goal just three minutes after his first and with less than a minute of normal time left when his Nigerian teammate passed across the face of goal to him after taking the ball away from Rosenborg goalkeeper Daniel Örlund, allowing Finne to place the ball coolly and calmly into the back of an unoccupied net to seal the win. After only losing once in the past two months, Brann have jumped from tenth to fourth place in the last nine games, and they now sit just one place behind Rosenborg.
The last game of the weekend started with one of the most bizarre events so far this season: to allow their substitute goalkeeper Gudmund Kongshavn to play in both Monday’s first team match against Hønefoss and Tuesday’s reserve team match against Gjøvik FF, Vålerenga started injured goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld before substituting him for Kongshavn after just fifty-three seconds. Needless to say, many were not happy with Vålerenga manager Martin Andresen’s decision to start an injured player only to substitute him at the first opportunity, with several observers claiming that Andresen’s actions were “not fair” and that the “rules and regulations themselves were wrong” and in need of “amending”. Nevertheless, Vålerenga went on to beat Hønefoss 3-2 thanks to goals from Mohammed Fellah, Chuma Anene and an own goal from Hønefoss’ Leo Olsen. Olsen’s own goal opened the scoring for Vålerenga after only seven minutes when he attempted to clear the ball for a corner, only to beat his own goalkeeper with a headed effort that would have been enthusiastically praised if it had happened at the other end. However, Hønefoss were only behind for a short while as Mats André Kaland equalised just seven minutes later with a beautifully curled strike from the edge of the box. The scores stayed level until the hour mark when Fellah put Vålerenga 2-1 ahead with an equally good edge-of-the-box strike, before substitute Anene made it 3-1 with his first goal of the season with a well-placed finish from a similar area after a well-organised Vålerenga counter-attacking movement. Hønefoss pulled one back in injury time through Kevin Larsen but it wasn’t enough as Vålerenga held on to pick up all three points and go four points clear of Hønefoss who are now without a win in their last six league games.
At the end of Round 23, Molde are back at the top of the table with forty-five points, just one point ahead of Strømgodset who themselves are only one point ahead of third-place Rosenborg; with only seven games left to play, the battle for the title could easily be won by any of the three sides. Brann climb up to fourth with thirty-six points, equal on points with fifth-place Tromsø who are one point ahead of sixth-place Viking. Both seventh-place Haugesund and eighth-place Vålerenga lie one point behind Viking, and Hønefoss find themselves four points behind in ninth, still only one point in front of Aalesund. Odd Grenland are one point behind in eleventh, whilst Lillestrøm are a further one point behind in twelfth after their win. Three wins in a row means that Fredrikstad are three points clear of the relegation zone in thirteenth but only one point ahead of fourteenth-place Sogndal after they were victorious on the weekend also. Sandnes Ulf drop into the relegation zone with twenty-one points, two points behind Sogndal, and Stabæk, as has been the case for the vast majority of the season, stay bottom of the table with thirteen points, eight points behind Sandnes Ulf and an alarming ten points from safety.