Monday, August 27, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 23 - Five-star HJK

It took just 72 hours for HJK to show some fight after their nightmare trip to Bilbao. Taught a footballing lesson by the Basque team in a 6-0 Europa League humiliation, the Finnish champions took their frustrations out on visiting IFK Mariehamn, who still had realistic title ambitions. Back to home comforts, a sparsely attended Sonera Stadium (attendance 2252) would not have expected Aleksei Kangaskolkka to score within two minutes, the result of a long kick upfield, some slack defending and a neat finish. Another good finish, this time by Demba Savage, brought HJK level after finding a gap in the IFKM defence, and it remained 1-1 until half-time.

The game was transformed in the second half, HJK flew out of the blocks with goals after 47' and 54' by Zeneli and Sadik. Juho Mäkelä added a fourth after 65 minutes after HJK showed a dogged spirit sorely missing in Bilbao, winning the ball back, keeping the ball with simple passes (to the sound of OLE! From the crowd), and a tap in on the goal line. The IFK goalscorer Kangaskolkka was dismissed for a second bookable offence, before Savage scored his second of the game (and eighth of the season) at the end of the game. HJK's second league win in a row keeps them in touch with the leaders Inter.

 Berat Sadik celebrates the third HJK goal
 Highlights of HJK v IFK

The gap at the top of the table is still four points, as Inter Turku won their home match at home to bottom club Jaro. They were heavy favourites to win, but needed a huge slice of fortune. They conceded after twelve minutes through a goal from Senegalese Papa Niang, and had to rely on a penalty from Mika Ojala to equalise. The half-time score was 1-1, and the leaders secured the three points with goals from Sirbiladze and an injury time goal from Argentine substitute Asis. Inter's next match is another home game, this time against VPS; while Jaro have now lost four league games in a row, and face MYPA at home next. They are rooted at the bottom of the table, two points behind Haka, and five behind KuPS.

Highlights of Inter Turku v Jaro

Haka lost 9-2 at TPS in the previous midweek, a result which led to the sacking of manager Sami Ristilä (assistant Asko Jussila has taken over)… After six defeats and a draw in their last seven, they needed to pick up points at home to Lahti on Saturday, but the visitors were clinical and won 0-3, Haka not helping themselves with an own goal from Pauli Kuusijärvi in the second half, and substitute Obi Metzger receiving a straight red card towards the end. Haka will need a full squad as they seek to save themselves, and a home match against Jaro in late September will be crucial. Lahti are sitting comfortably in eighth position.

 Kris Bright of Haka perfects his thousand yard stare

Fellow strugglers KuPS were hoping to continue their good domestic form (three wins in four) at home to rivals JJK. Both teams exited the Europa League earlier in the summer, and were looking to recover from poor league starts. JJK struck first however, Tamas Gruborovics scoring from a corner kick. Antti Hynynen soon levelled, but two further first half goals from JJK, by Innanen and a second for Gruborovics, took them 1-3 ahead. A red card for KuPS midfield Sohna reduced the home team to ten men, and a late goal from American Tabe wasn't enough. JJK won 2-3, and the gap between the two teams is five points. KuPS will now have to focus on their Cup semi final against MYPA on Thursday, while JJK have a home match against Haka next weekend.

Form team TPS were looking to build on their 9-2 midweek victory over Haka, with an away match at MYPA. The home team are on the edges of the European places, but both teams had to settle for a draw. A second half penalty from Sihvola put MYPA ahead, but TPS scored immediately through Okaru, and the game petered out. TPS remain second on goal difference, four points behind their Turku rivals. MYPA are fifth, but only four points behind TPS and HJK.

 MYPA's Pekka Sihvola is scared of the ball...

The final match of the weekend occurred on Monday, a mid-table clash between Honka and VPS. Honka took the lead just before half-time, a lovely goal from Jussi Vasara from a cutback. An equaliser wasn't far, Ville Koskimaa scored eight minutes into the second half. But the visitors were to take the victory, a late goal from Robin Lod ensured that VPS stay in touch with the leaders, and are on 36 points from 23 games.

Of note, congratulations to RoPS, who secured promotion from the Ykkonen on Saturday afternoon with six games remaining. Their 0-1 victory at PK-35 was enough to ensure that they return to the top division at the first attempt. The fight to avoid taking their place continues...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 22 - The return of Morrissey

The recent headlines may have been grabbed by the retirement of Fabrice Muamba, but just as potentially dangerous was the recent diagnosis of myocarditis for VPS striker Steven Morrissey. The Jamaican was diagnosed with the condition in early July, and miraculously returned to action last week with a substitute appearance at home to KuPS. Yet this weekend, he was named in the starting line-up at home to Haka, and made up for lost time. He scored in the first minute of the game after a horrendous error from the Haka keeper, with a second following in the twenty-third minute. He now has eleven league goals for the season - VPS are now sixth, and it's difficult to see where they would be without their number 26. It shows his confidence is in rude health when he tweeted after the game "Should have bin (sic) 3". VPS's Sebastian Strandvall referred to Haka's style of play as destructive, but the defeated side remain two points off the bottom of the table - it's a difficult position to be in, where a more agricultural style could well be more effective.

Morrissey celebrates again

With regard to the battle at the foot of the table, the big movers were KuPS - the only winners in what is now the bottom half, they secured their second victory in a row with a 1-0 home win over Lahti, sealed with a late goal from the club icon Ilja Venäläinen. The main talking point was the red card given to Lahti's German Hendrik Großöhmichen for spitting at Miikka Ilo in the second half. Lahti didn't manage a single shot on target, and are in a poor run of four defeats in their last five games. KuPS are third bottom, and are now only three points behind their visitors. KuPS have another two home games in a row, against JJK and MYPA. Lahti will need to be careful not to be sucked into the relegation scrap. 

Ilja scores for KuPS

The bottom side Jaro were in action at home to TPS on Sunday, and looked like holding on for a scoreless draw before Nigerian Dennis Okaru scored with seventeen minutes left to take the points back to Turku, the goal coming after a Jaro corner which was cleared and Okaru coolly slotted home. Jaro are rooted to the bottom of the table, while TPS are just five points behind leaders and local rivals Inter, with a crucial game in hand (TPS are playing Haka at home this Wednesday, looks like a home banker).

 Jaro v TPS highlights

Leaders Inter Turku had a home match against mid-table Honka on Saturday evening, and after a goalless first half, scored two goals through Irakli Sirbiladze and Pim Bouwman (with a lovely free kick after being fouled on the edge of the box), and a late goal from Tim Väyrynen couldn't make a difference, and the leaders extended their lead to four points. 

Pim Bouwman of Inter

Their nearest challengers are the champions HJK, whose recent form has been poor (seeing them knocked out of the Champions League, and with a big Europa League tie coming up against Athletic Bilbao). But HJK were professional in dealing with the visitors from JJK, two goals in the first half making the difference (Mannstrom and a penalty from Väyrynen). HJK are on 37 points from 22 games, a record they now share with IFK Mariehamn - defeated on Monday night at MYPA. 

HJK v JJK highlights

The hosts won their third consecutive game, goals from Olajide Williams and another from Pekka Sihvola gave MYPA a two goal lead, before a reply from Aleksei Kangaskolkka made it a nervy finale. But the game finished 2-1, IFK lost more ground on first place, and MYPA go fifth, still with a good chance of returning to European competition in 2013.

With the attentions moving to the opening games in England and Spain, the Veikkausliiga continues to provide drama. The midweek game will have a big bearing on the table, and Honka will finally learn their opponent in the Suomen Cup final next week. HJK face a huge test against beaten Europa League finalists Bilbao this week.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 21 - TPS win local bragging rights

Whoever is in charge of fixture scheduling at the Finnish FA deserves an Oscar. The games were spread out, and the main drama was saved for Sunday afternoon.

The opening game of the round kicked off in Jyväskylä, with MYPA defeating the hosts JJK by 3-0 and are up to fifth place in the table. The star of the show was Pekka Sihvola with a second-half hat-trick, and he's now on nine goals for the season. This was only MYPA's second league win since the end of June, a period which also saw them exit the Europa League. Fellow European campaigners JJK are left in ninth place, with a five point cushion down to tenth, but not a comfortable lead.

Treble for Sihvola

The other Saturday game featured third place Mariehamn at home to strugglers Jaro, and the home win was always on the cards, with a 2-0 scoreline the result. Goals in each half, from Willhelm Ingves and Patrik Byskata took the home team up to second place, three points ahead of champions HJK who were playing on Sunday.

So to Sunday, and to Lahti. The defending champions from Helsinki were eliminated from the Champions League by Celtic, and handed a tough draw in the Europa League versus last year's finalists Athletic Bilbao. They were four points behind leaders Inter Turku and needed a win to keep their chances of qualification for the European Cup for 2013. Lahti had been in poor form, losing their last three games, but they turned the title race on it's head with a stunning 3-0 victory. Three goals in nineteen minutes made the difference, and not many people would believe that there is now only a six point gap between the teams. Lahti's next two games are against KuPS and Haka, and there's a good chance that gap could be smaller.

The leaders Inter knew what they had to do. Win their match, and they'd be seven points ahead of HJK, and four ahead of Mariehamn. But the match was away to neighbours TPS, and to use the old cliché, the form book goes out of the window. Inter started well, and took the lead with a twentieth goal from French forward Guy Gnabouyou. One nil down at half time, Marko Rajamäki must have given one hell of a team talk, and the league cup winners flew out of the blocks. Aleksi Ristola equalised after 49 minutes, Petteri Pennanen put the hosts in front, and two goals from Mikko Hyyrynen sealed the three points. TPS move to fourth, just five points behind their local rivals, game in hand... Inter hold a one point lead over Mariehamn, but have three home games in a row to come.

TPS celebrate their victory


Sunday's other matches held importance of their own. VPS hosted a KuPS side still smarting from their 6-0 drubbing in Turkey. Several changes were made, however the visitors took all three points thanks to a late goal from Ilja Venäläinen, who came on at half time. KuPS leap-frog Jaro, while VPS sit in seventh, still only eight points behind the leaders. Jamaican striker Steven Morrissey made his return after heart-related problems as a first half substitute, VPS will be hoping he will bring goals to bring a push for a European place.

The final match of the round saw Honka entertain Haka. The goals were shared equally in Espoo, but Honka will be disappointed to concede a late goal, Jonne Hjelm rescuing a point for Haka, who are two points off the bottom. Haka face two more away games, at VPS and TPS. Of note, Tim Väyrynen scored his eighth goal of the season, and seven of these have been Honka's opening goal, a fantastic statistic showing how vital he is to them. The highlights were entertaining, and are shown below.

Highlights of Honka 2-2 Haka

Monday, August 06, 2012

Veikkausliiga week 20 - Inter extend their lead

Another round of games completed, and finally some daylight is opening up at the top of the table. Inter Turku have extended their lead at the top of the table to four points, after a routine victory away to Haka on Sunday afternoon. Late goals from Irakli Sirbiladze (his ninth of the season) and Solomon Duah sealed the points. Inter may benefit from their Europa League exit, with one less distraction to worry about, not that it was less painful at the time.

Sirbiladze in action at Haka

The four point lead was assisted by HJK's crazy 3-3 draw at home to VPS - the visitors were 1-0 up, then 3-1 before a late rally from the champions, recent signing Mika Väyrynen grabbing another goal . HJK made a few changes from the team that played Celtic in midweek, but dropping more points at home could mean that they will be involved in the Europa League next season. Celtic's forwards will have watched the highlights with pleasure.

Highlights of HJK 3-3 VPS

On Monday night, IFK Mariehamn had a chance to narrow the gap at the top to just two points with an away match at TPS. Two early goals were shared, Pistola opening the scoring for the hosts, Jani Lyyski's first goal of the year levelling, but he was to be sent off late in the game. IFKM have a chance to close the gap on Saturday with a home match against struggling Jaro, with TPS entertaining the leaders.

Speaking of Jaro, they hosted JJK on Sunday, hoping to pull themselves away from the bottom against their fellow strugglers. Unfortunately, JJK's recent good form continued with a routine 3-0 victory, featuring two goals from Nigerian Babatunde Wusu, now on ten goals for 2012. JJK are now up to eighth places, eight points from the bottom.

Highlights of FF Jaro 3-3 JJK

Bottom side KuPS, fresh from yet another European victory over Turkish side Bursaspor, were at home to Honka. The team from Kuopio again forgot how to translate their continental form to the domestic league, and conceded two goals early in the second half, and the win leaves them one point adrift at the bottom of the table. With a long visit to Turkey for Thursday, the visit to Vaasa to face VPS on Sunday takes on extra significance.

Highlights of KuPS 0-2 Honka

The weekend's other match was a mid-table clash between MYPA and Lahti. Pekka Sihvola put the hosts 2-0 up with his fifth and sixth goals of the season, before an own goal made it 3-0. An injury time consolation for Lahti made no difference, and means MYPA are seventh, Lahti ninth.