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...