Posted by: Christian Wulff | July 12, 2013

Season reaches half-way point as underachievers regain some pride – Tippeligaen Round 14 & 15

With the completion of two more rounds in Tippeligaen, the season has reached its official half-way point and with Norwegian football’s usual unpredictability the league table inevitably contains some major surprises.

There is no doubt that Vålerenga and Molde are the biggest underachievers so far this season. Languishing in 10th and 11th they are far from what was envisaged for these outfits, with especially Molde, winner of the last two championships, having shell-shocked its fans with some atrocious early season performances. Even so, the last two weeks have seen a redemption of sorts for both teams, igniting hopes for a much improved second part of the campaign.

For Vålerenga, it’s two goals from unorthodox sources which have given the club a much needed lift. When they travelled to Lillestrøm two weeks ago the spotlight was not on sporting matters, but on the behaviour of a small minority of Vålerenga supporters. The rivalry between the two clubs is the by far the biggest in Norway when it comes to intensity (if not quality or importance) and it had boiled over completely when the statue of Lillestrøm legend Tom Lund, placed outside their stadium, was beheaded by vandals in the days leading up to the game. Accusations was made against Vålerenga’s so-called ‘casuals’, a slightly pathetic group of individuals intend on mimicking the faux hard-man identity of similar supporter groupings around Europe.

Lillestrøm’s own fan group then organised 24 hours security outside Åråsen stadium to prevent further vandalism, which seemed to be an appropriate measure when a car load of Vålerenga fans arrived at dawn the morning before the match, baseball bat in hand. Police was quickly on the scene and the situation never escalated further, the proper fans of both teams instead creating a brilliant atmosphere inside the stadium later that day.

It was a typical derby with high intensity and great tension instead of outstanding quality, decided by a typical scrappy goal; Czech left-back Jan Lecjaks’s piercing, in-swinging free-kick was only pawed away by Lillestrøm goalkeeper Arnold Origi, his save hitting his team-mate Johan Andersson at the back post, the Swede hardly to blame for putting the ball in his own net, giving the visitors the lead and a narrow win.

Vålerenga needed the intervention of an even more unlikely goal-scorer in their home game against a Viking side chasing European qualification. Veton Berisha had put the visitors in front before half-time with a lovely turn and finish inside the area, before Torgeir Børven’s near-post flick finally ended his 11 game league goal draught and drew Vålerenga level just after the interval. Patrik Ingelsten restored the visitor’s lead shortly after and looked to have given Viking the win until Vålerenga goalkeeper Gudmund Kongshavn sprinted the length of the field to join the attack for Diego Calvo’s corner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

For once, such a last-ditch, desperate attempt to force an equaliser paid off. Kongshavn’s leaped through the air to meet the cross and while his contact wasn’t clean, the ball trickled into the net after taking a deflection off Viking defender Håkon Skogseid. Obviously not a consummate professional when it comes to goal celebrations, Kongshavn started his by running straight into another Viking defender, Johan Lædre Bjørdal, so hard that Bjørdal needed treatment afterwards.
Those two unusual goals have lifted Vålerenga up by their bootstraps, giving them not only four points but tangible motivation and belief, which urgently needs distilled into more assured and quality performances. They finish the first part of the season in tenth, still far off their ambitions for their season but now a managable seven points behind Aalesund who currently hold the last European qualifying spot in third place.

Molde are one step behind Vålerenga in 11th and while everyone associated with the club would have been devastatingly disappointed with that position before the start of campaign they would gladly have accepted it if offered to them only a few weeks ago. The defending champions had been languishing at the very bottom of the table for most of the season, but they are now unbeaten in five, having won three of their last four games. Over the last two weeks they delivered a routine home win over promoted Sarpsborg, before they went to Tromsø and recorded a significantly more unusual victory.

Tromsø had only lost one league game at home since Molde beat them at the end of the 2011 season to virtually secure their first ever league championship. This time Molde found the home team in a vulnerable state; Tromsø had dominated most of their Europa League first round qualifier against Slovenian side Celje on Thursday night, only to be sucker-punched by two late goals. While Tromsø should possess enough quality to turn that 2-1 deficit around in the return leg this week, they lost another second half lead against Molde in this match.

Leading 2-1 at the interval, Tromsø could have gone further ahead had it not been for a couple of brilliant saves from Ørjan Nyland, the Norway U-21 goalkeeper whose impressive displays at the European Championship this summer saw him earning a place in that tournament’s all-star squad. A defensive mix-up between Adnan Causevic and Tromsø goal-keeper Marcus Sahlman left Daniel Chima Chukwu with an easy tap-in to equalise for Molde, Mattias Moström then giving Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team the win with another tap-in from Sahlman’s rebound only eight minutes later.
From having occupied a relegation place virtually all season, Molde is now suddenly only eights points behind third place, not an insurmountable task if they can re-kindle some of the ruthless efficiency that characterised their last two, title winning seasons.

To help them do that, and also to prepare for their second attempt at Champions League qualification this autumn, they have brought in Mats Møller Dæhli, one of the most talented youngsters in Norwegian football. The 18 year old was awarded the club price as the best Manchester United youth player in 2011/12, but has now decided to continue his career and gain get senior football experience through a permanent move to Molde. While he probably won’t be an immediate replacement for Magnus Wolff-Eikrem, the former United youth reserve player that Solskjær brought with him to the club in 2011 and who have recently joined Herenveen, 18 year old Møller Dæhli will be a very exciting addition indeed to Tippeligaen. Molde have also signed Sandnes Ulf striker Tommy Høiland this week, in addition to being closely linked to another young attacking player, Lillestrøm’s Fredrik Gulbrandsen.

The two main positive surprises in this year’s Tippeligaen also met in the last round, Aalesund and Sogndal drawing 2-2. The latter is, very quietly, having an impressive year, their seventh place so far way above expectations for a team that is perpetually seen as a relegation candidate and whose best ever league season is their 6th place finish in 1998. Very few expected Aalesund to be in third place half-way through the season, but at this point they’ll be very annoyed that they only hold that position on goal difference from Brann and Viking. Two weeks ago they let a 2-0 lead and two points slip away at Start, before they conceded another late equaliser against Sogndal on Saturday making it four points lost from winning positions over the last two games.

At the top, Rosenborg have narrowed the lead to Strømsgodset to a single point over the last two weeks. They were four points behind before the latest round after they drew away to Viking with Strømsgodset beating Tromsø, but a win at home to Lillestrøm combined with Strømsgodset’s capitulation at Haugesund means that the fight for the title is as close as ever. It also seems to be exclusively between those two teams, the six point gap down to the trio of teams following them likely to become a permanent divide throughout the rest of the season. For Strømsgodset, who led at this point last season as well, they will need to take more points away from home to secure their first league title in 42 years. Undefeated at home, their away record is still the third best in the league but they have now lost on their last two trips away from Drammen.

The worst Tippeligaen away team is still Brann, but they’ll be relieved to have at least gained their first point outside of Bergen this season as they drew away to Hønefoss on Monday. It’s their 100% home record, with eight wins out of eight, that still leaves them equal on points with Aalesund and Viking in the fight for third.

Results round 14; Brann – Sandnes Ulf 6-1, Molde – Sarpsborg 08 3-1, Strømsgodset – Tromsø 3-1, Sogndal – Hønefoss 1-1, Lillestrøm – Vålerenga 0-1, Odd Grenland – Haugesund 4-0, Start – Aalesund 2-2, Viking – Rosenborg 0-0

Results round 15; Aalesund – Sogndal 2-2, Haugesund – Strømsgodset 2-1, Tromsø – Molde 2-3, Sandnes Ulf – Start 3-1, Rosenborg – Lillestrøm 1-0, Sarpsborg 08 – Odd Grenland 0-1, Vålerenga – Viking 2-2, Hønefoss – Brann 1-1.

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