As two very important games for two very different reasons were ended by the sound of the referee’s whistle on Sunday evening, the pure joy and pure misery that is ever-present in football was laid bare for all to see in Molde and in Bærum. Stabæk, the league champions of 2008 and participants in the 2009 Champions League, had their inevitable exit from Tippeligaen finally confirmed by a single Viking goal with less than twenty minutes left to play. Molde, on the other hand, took a giant leap towards defending their title with a 2-0 home win against Rosenborg, Ole Gunnar Solskjær showing his pure elation and relief to the world with his knees on the pitch and his hands raised towards the sky. Not dissimilar to his celebration in the 1999 Champions League final when he scored the last-minute winner for Manchester United against Bayern Munich, you could really sense that this weekend’s victory against arguably their nearest rivals this season meant just as much to him, if not more. For Petter Belsvik, a former player for Molde himself in the late 80s and early 90s, Stabæk’s nightmare season was finally over, the club’s manager stating after the defeat that his side had been poor for a long time and it was time to focus on rebuilding Stabæk. With twelve players, at least, estimated to leave the club before the start of next season, Belsvik certainly has a tough task on his hands.
In similar style to Solskjær at Manchester United, Peter Kovács, so often their saviour this season, insured that Strømgodset would remain a fundamental player in the race for this season’s title for yet another week when he scored five minutes into extra time in a dramatic game away to Haugesund. The home side went ahead just before half time through Swedish youngster Pontus Engblom but two goals in quick succession from Kovács and Jarl Andre Storbæk put the title chasers into the lead ten minutes into the second half. Substitute Michael Haukås equalised for Haugesund five minutes after coming on with little under quarter of an hour left to play, but Kovács found himself in space on the edge of the box to half-volley Strømgodset back into the lead and back into the heart of the battle at the top of the table. Haugesund, now with only two league wins since the start of September, will have felt aggrieved at losing in such a cruel manner, especially as Haukås was denied a second goal moments after his first when his headed effort was wrongly flagged for offside.
The excitement continued over into Saturday’s single game with Sandnes Ulf pulling themselves out of the relegation zone by a single point when they thrashed nearest rivals Fredrikstad 5-1 at Sandnes Idrettspark. After an unfortunate own goal from Danish midfielder Morten Bertolt put the away side 1-0 ahead after ten minutes, fellow Dane Christian Gytkjær evened up the scoreline quarter of an hour later when he fired in from the penalty spot after Robert Stene tripped Steinthór Thorsteinsson inside the box. Anel Raskaj then put the home side ahead for the first time in the game just before half time, with Christian Gytkjær then scoring from the spot yet again fifteen minutes after the restart, Vidar Martinsen this time fouling Thorsteinsson. Fredrik Torsteinbø increased Fredrikstad’s woes when his strike three minutes later put the home side 4-1 ahead and Thorsteinsson finally got a goal of his own moments before the final whistle blew with the simplest of tap-ins into an empty net. After a much-needed win – their first since the end of August – Sandnes Ulf now must hope that they can achieve strong results against Hønefoss, Tromsø, Strømgodset and Aalesund if they wish to remain in Tippeligaen for only the second year in their 101 years as a football club. As for Fredrikstad, four defeats in a row sees them drop into the relegation zone for the first time since the end of August, and with games against Odd Grenland, Rosenborg and Molde fast-approaching, the omens aren’t looking good for the Red Shorts.
Odd Grenland kicked off another action-packed day with a crushing 4-0 win over struggling Hønefoss on Sunday afternoon. Odd themselves were without a win in their last five league games before this weekend and it took them until the second half to go ahead, Herolind Shala firing in from the edge of the penalty box just before the hour mark. Adem Güven made it 2-0 just five minutes later before Snorre Krogsgård stretched their lead to three goals almost immediately after the restart, ending a horrendous seven minutes of football for Hønefoss. But Odd weren’t done; Nigerian youngster George White Agwuocha replacing Krogsgård with five minutes left to play and scoring within just three minutes to pick up his first goal for the club. Now ten points clear of the relegation zone in tenth place, Odd are as good as safe from relegation, whilst Hønefoss lie one point behind them but without a win in over three months. Last year’s Adeccoligaen champions play Sandnes Ulf, Molde and Rosenborg in their last three games of the season and if it wasn’t for Fredrikstad having an almost identical end to the season as them, relegation back to Adeccoligaen could be a big possibility after such a poor second half of the season.
A single second half goal from Vålerenga’s Morten Berre effectively ended Tromsø’s chances of staying in the race for the title as the fourth contender when the two sides met in Oslo on Sunday evening. After several fine saves by Tromsø’s Swedish goalkeeper Benny Lekström, Berre finally managed to put the home side ahead after seventy-one minutes after the thirty-seven-year-old veteran managed to lose his marker and head in backwards past Lekström from a beautifully placed Bojan Zajić free kick. The win means that Vålerenga stay in seventh place but move just one point behind Brann and only two behind fifth-place Viking. Tromsø, on the other hand, remain in fourth but are now seven points behind Strømgodset. They still have a game in hand against Sandnes Ulf, however, and victory there could well see them back in the race for a third-place finish.
Back at the bottom of the table, Sogndal, dangerously close to the relegation zone, picked up a desperately needed point to move three points clear of Sandnes Ulf when they drew 1-1 Aalesund at home thanks to a late goal from substitute Stian Dyngeland, his first in Tippeligaen. Leke James put Aalesund 1-0 ahead after only four minutes after a poor header from Hannu Patronen and a defensive mix-up between the Finnish defender and Sogndal goalkeeper Kenneth Udjus allowed Aalesund’s Nigerian striker to muscle his way through the defence and push the ball past Udjus with his head himself. Acrobatic efforts at goal seemed to be Sogndal’s main aim during the second half but in the end it was a simple header from Dyngeland that rescued a point for Sogndal, the youngster, who had replaced Tommy Brochmann just three minutes earlier, finding himself on the end of Malick Mane’s cross.
Even though on the day it took only one goal to relegate Stabæk to Adeccoligaen, nobody, not even manager Petter Belsvik, can deny that it has been a long time coming, 2012 being a horrible year full of disappointment and upset for the Bærum-based club, caused chiefly by continuing financial difficulties and charges of fraud on their backroom staff. With just four wins and fourteen points so far this season compared to eleven and thirty at this point last year, Stabæk’s eventual relegation has been a case of when rather than if almost immediately from the off, and this weekend’s loss, their twenty-first of the season, finally sent them down. Trond Olsen was the scorer of that fateful goal, breaking away down the left hand side of the box and skipping past the disjointed Stabæk defence before firing the ball past the nineteen-year-old Ivorian goalkeeper Mande Sayouba and into the roof of the net. As soon as the goal went in, disappointment could clearly be seen on the faces of the Stabæk players, but the fans never gave up, singing and dancing their hearts’ out right until the final whistle. With major renovation needed to Belsvik’s squad before next season kicks off, the future looks uncertain for De Blaa, but if one thing’s for certain it’s that they will never give up.
Sunday’s late kick off saw Molde beat Rosenborg 2-0 at Aker Stadion in one of the most important games of the season. Level on points before this weekend and, after their win against Haugesund on Friday night, now level on points with Strømgodset as well, both sides knew that victory here could be the difference between winning and losing the 2012 Tippeligaen title. After a first half of equal opportunities, it wasn’t until the hour mark that the home side finally managed to go ahead, Pape Paté Diouf heading in to the bottom-left-hand corner of the net from a Matthias Moström cross. And with Daniel Örlund in the Molde box for one last Rosenborg attack, Etzaz Hussain was able to score only his second goal for the club when he cleared the ball to Jo Inge Berget on the right wing before his fellow countrymen fed the ball back into his path, allowing him to place the ball into an empty net to wrap up a historic win under historic circumstances. Molde now play Tromsø, Hønefoss and Fredrikstad in their remaining fixtures, and, despite being three points ahead, victories in all three games are a must if they are to hold off both Rosenborg and Strømgodset as we come to the end of what has been a superb season.
On Monday night’s last game of the weekend, Brann slipped down to sixth and Lillestrøm moved up to eleventh after the latter came back from behind to beat the former 3-2 thanks to two second-half goals. Lillestrøm’s twenty-one-year-old striker Mathis Bolly scored twice, his first coming after only seven minutes. His side’s lead only lasted for five minutes though, Erik Huseklepp scoring his fourth goal for Brann since moving back from Portsmouth only a few months ago. He then scored his fifth during injury time at the end of the first half, this time from the penalty spot after Henning Hauger pulled down Kim Ojo in the box. Brann went into the half time break ahead but Bolly made the scoreline 2-2 when he spectacularly fired in from long range, and Anders Østli wrapped up a great comeback and a well deserved win when he headed in from Bjorn Helge Riise’s free kick seven minutes from the end. The victory means that Lillestrøm end the weekend eight points clear of the relegation zone, and with Fredrikstad facing a tough end to the season, a mediocre year for Lillestrøm should, thankfully, end with their place in Tippeligaen in 2013 safe and secure.
At the end of Round 27, Molde move back to the top of the table, three points ahead of both Rosenborg and Strømgodset who face each other next Sunday evening in what could be just as important as this weekend’s dramatic fixture between the top two sides. Tromsø stay seven points behind Strømgodset in fourth – still with a game in hand – and Viking move up to two points behind them in fifth after going six games unbeaten. Brann drop to sixth, one point behind them, whilst Vålerenga are a further one point behind in seventh. Haugesund’s second defeat in as many weeks means that they stay in eighth, three points behind Vålerenga and three points ahead of Aalesund, who are equal on points with tenth-place Odd Grenland. Lillestrøm sit two points behind Odd in eleventh, equal on points with Hønefoss, who’s poor form has seen them drop from fourth to twelfth place since their last league victory at the end of July. Sogndal sit four points behind them in the last of the “safe” places, and Sandnes Ulf move into the relegation play-off spot after their thrashing of Fredrikstad, now three points behind Sogndal and one point ahead of the now fifteenth-place Fredrikstad. Stabæk, finally condemned to life in Adeccoligaen next season, remain bottom, where, even if they win their remaining three games, they are doomed to finish the year.