Five things we learned in Scandinavia this week

In-form Nordsjælland win again, resulting in Odense’s Troels Bech becoming the first managerial casualty of the season

With just nine games of the 2014-15 Danish Superliga season played, we already have our first managerial sacking, and, quite frankly, it did come as a surprise.

Even Troels Bech, who up until Tuesday morning was the coach of an Odense side that have been struggling over the past three years, admitted that he was not shocked upon hearing the news, as it seemed the logical outcome after his side had suffered a poor start to the season.

After three consecutive second-place finishes – not to mention 10 top-half finishes in a row since 2002 – between 2008 and 2011, the former league heavyweights have failed to finish in the top half of the table since, and in each season they have finished less than 10 points clear of the relegation zone, each time failing to win more than 10 of their 33 league games.

The start of the current season was no different, as poor performances in their opening nine games has left them in the relegation zone with just six points, without a win in their last four games, three of which have ended in defeat.

This weekend’s defeat, a 2-1 loss away to Nordsjælland, would prove to be the last for Troels Bech, as the follow morning the Odense board decided to sack the man who led them to glory in the 2002 Danish Cup after two disappointing years back at the club, replacing him instead with former Vestsjælland manager Ove Pedersen, who guided both Midtjylland and Esbjerg to third-place finishes in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

In stark contrast to Odense, Nordsjælland continue to fly high under the control of new manager Ólafur Kristjánsson, who, since his arrival from Icelandic side Breiðablik in the summer, has now won six of his opening nine league games at the club. Monday evening’s victory at home to Odense was their third in a row, and it keeps them just two points behind Midtjylland, who beat Vestsjælland 1-0 this weekend, and two in front of Randers, who they face in what is sure to be a tough clash on Sunday afternoon.

The third-place side’s start to the new campaign has far surpassed what many expected from them, but this weekend they were unable to extend their winning streak to three games against struggling reigning champions Aalborg, and instead had to settle for a goalless draw at Nordjyske Arena.

AIK’s descent continues after a fourth consecutive game without a win

Until recently, it looked almost certain that AIK were going to claim the second-place spot behind an incredibly strong Malmö FF side that were, realistically, always going to finish at the top of the Allsvenskan table. The Stockholm side finished August just four points behind the league leaders in second place, three points clear of nearest challengers Elfsborg and with only one defeat in their previous seven league games.

However, a terrible run of form in which they have only picked up one point from their last four games has seen them slip down the table to fourth place, leaving them in desperate need of a victory if they are going to have any chance of qualifying for next season’s Europa League.

After consecutive defeats against Helsingborg, Halmstad and Mjällby, this weekend almost saw them lose for a fourth game in a row, and, as a result, drop to four points behind Elfsborg after the latter side went into the final five minutes of their clash against AIK 1-0 ahead thanks to a 65th-minute Simon Hedlund goal.

With Elfsborg in far better form than AIK, and with only four games of the season left to play, a win for the Borås side arguably would have ended AIK’s hopes of finishing in the top three, but Nabil Bahoui was able to fire in an equalising goal with just a few minutes remaining, one that saved his side from another defeat and gives them a chance to turn their season around at this late stage.

The draw between AIK and Elfsborg was also good news for IFK Göteborg, as it allowed them the opportunity to move up to second place after they won 2-1 at home to sixth-place Djurgården, thanks to goals in either half from in-form Danish striker Lasse Vibe, who has now scored 20 goals in the league for the club this season, and defender Martin Smedberg-Dalence.

Just four points now separate IFK Göteborg and fifth-place Häcken, the latter of whom came from a goal down to beat struggling Kalmar 3-2 away from home on Sunday, meaning that we are guaranteed to be treated to a wonderfully fierce fight for Europa League qualification over the next four weeks!

Falkenberg’s first win in a month-and-a-half moves them out of the relegation zone

Not only is there a vicious battle occurring at the top of the table, but there is also one just as sinister happening at the bottom, where each week things seem to get even closer as four of the bottom five sides continue to fight tooth and nail to avoid relegation to Superettan.

This week, there was another shock, as Falkenberg, who before this weekend sat in the relegation zone without a single point in their last five consecutive league games, picked up an extremely important victory at home to fellow strugglers Norrköping, moving them out of the relegation zone and up to 14th place in the process. The win, their first in a month-and-a-half, was an extremely exciting one, too, as two goals in the last 15 minutes helped Henrik Larsson’s side to a 4-2 victory that was a lot closer than it sounds.

Early goals from Daniel Johansson and Patrik Ingelsten gave Falkenberg a much-needed 2-0 lead after just quarter-of-an-hour, but Norrköping, desperately in need of a fourth game in a row without defeat to avoid slipping further down the table, fought back in the second half, and a quick-fire brace from Emir Kujović helped them back into the game with little over 20 minutes left to play.

However, Falkenberg were not done just yet, and they kept on fighting for the win, scoring twice in the final 15 minutes through Carl-Oscar Andersson and Anton Wede to pick up three vitally important points that mean that they head into next week’s difficult clash again Häcken outside of the relegation zone, but only just.

Norrköping, who drop into the bottom two as a result of this weekend’s defeat, Falkenberg and 13th-place Gefle, who suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Örebro on Monday evening, are all tied on 26 points, whilst Mjällby, who were unable to extend their four-game unbeaten streak and were beaten 4-1 by leaders Malmö FF on Saturday, remain just two points ahead of them in 12th place.

A win for Mjällby against already-relegated Brommapojkarna next week is imperative, as they are the only one of the bottom five sides that are not in action against a club from the top half of the table. Victory in Sölvesborg could send them five points clear of the drop zone with just three games left to play, giving them a good chance of avoiding relegation to the second tier.

The same can be said for Halmstad, who comfortably beat Brommapojkarna 3-0 this weekend to move seven points clear of the relegation zone in 11th place, although they are arguably as good as safe, but a victory against 10th-place Åtvidaberg – who were beaten 2-1 by Helsingborg on Monday evening – will not only move them above the latter side but could also confirm their place in next year’s Allsvenskan after a difficult season.

Sandnes Ulf shock Vålerenga to all but end the Oslo side’s hopes of European football

As has been the case for the majority of this season, each week we have been introduced with another twist in the tale, another shock result that, in the process, causes chaos at both ends of the table, no matter whom it involves. And that was exactly what happened this weekend, as, in typical Tippeligaen fashion, a surprising victory for one of division’s bottom sides not only made things a lot more interesting at the bottom, but also at the top, where a fierce battle for European football is in full swing.

The aforementioned result was Sandnes Ulf’s fantastic 2-1 victory at home to Vålerenga, ending their 12-game winless run and moving them to within six points of the relegation play-off spot with five games of the season left to play.

Whilst this weekend’s win does give the Rogaland side a slim chance of pulling off what would be a truly historic great escape, it is more than likely that they will be playing in the 1st Division come next March, as a poor season in which they have looked out of their depth since day one has seen them manage to pick up just three wins all year.

However, as has always been the case with Tippeligaen, it is nigh on impossible to predict what is going to happen, and if Sandnes Ulf are able to see off struggling Haugesund – who have lost five of their last six league games – next week, then it could prove to give them the confidence they need to achieve the impossible and guarantee themselves a place in next season’s Tippeligaen.

Sandnes Ulf’s surprising victory also had severe implications for Vålerenga, whose hopes of qualifying for the Europa League were all but crushed by the defeat, leaving them nine points away from third-place Rosenborg and with just one win in their last eight league games after a torrid end to a season that once again looks like it is going to end in disappointing fashion.

A tough end to the season in which they have to face both Odd and Rosenborg, as well as Sogndal, Aalesund and Start, means that the Oslo side are in danger of dropping even further down the table and, if things remain as they are, into the bottom half of the table before the season is over, meaning that they will have only managed to finish in the top half once in the last eight years.

Sogndal are victorious for the first time since June, making the bottom of the Tippeligaen table even closer in the process

This weekend also saw another Tippeligaen team pick up a hugely important victory, one that has made the fight to avoid relegation to the 1st Division even more fierce as we enter the final stretch of the season. That side is Sogndal, who before this weekend had not won a single league game since the middle of June, leaving them in the relegation zone and in real danger of dropping to the second tier.

However, a much-needed, not to mention emphatic, 4-1 victory at home to fellow strugglers Haugesund, thanks to a brace from out-of-form striker Tim André Nilsen, who had not scored a league goal since the end of May, and a goal each for Mahatma Otoo and Ulrik Flo, has seen them finally move out of the bottom two and up to the relegation play-off spot in 14th place.

As a result, Brann drop back into the relegation zone after they were unable to extend their unbeaten run to three games this weekend, instead suffering a heavy 4-0 defeat away to Odd in a game that saw the Bergen side score two unfortunate own-goals.

The defeat means that just one point separates the three sides going into the final five games of the season, whilst both Bodø/Glimt and Aalesund, who are four points ahead of Haugesund and Sogndal in 12th and 11th place, respectively, are also still firmly part of the fight to avoid relegation after they both lost their respective games this weekend.

Aalesund were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Rosenborg, whilst Bodø/Glimt, who have now lost their last three consecutive league games, lost 2-1 against league leaders Molde, who cancelled out Abdurahim Laajab’s 49th-minute equalising goal with a successfully converted Harmeet Singh penalty half-an-hour later.

Whilst Aalesund are in the better form of the two sides, both are still in real danger of being relegated and need to put points on the board before it is too late.

The Author

Ben Cullimore

Freelance journalist and long-suffering non-league fan.

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