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sarpsborg so near to safety for deane in norway

sarpsborg so near to safety for deane in norway


Brian Deane’s battle against relegation in the Norwegian Tippeligaen goes on, as his Sarpsborg 08 team veered from safety to jeopardy in a crazy finish to their regular Tippeligaen season.

Last weekend’s hard won home victory over Molde, managed by Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, had given Sarpsborg a twin boost of points and confidence going into the final round of matches. Even if other results went against them, the worst that could happen if they won on the final day at Viking would be to go into a playoff against a promotion hopeful from the division below.

As it was, other results went in Sarpsborg’s favour, as bottom pair Hønefoss and Tromsø both lost, as did Sandnes and Sogndal immediately above. A win would move Sarpsborg from 14th to 12th and clear safety, and on the same weekend Ross McCormack emulated his four goal scoring feat, Deano would have kept the team with the smallest budget in the league in the top division in his first season as manager. 

But with the score still 0-0 at the start of the second half, a determined Deane told the TV interviewers that he wasn’t even thinking about what was happening in other games. “Our destiny is in our own hands,” he said. “We’ve got 45 minutes to win the game.”

They so nearly did, and it was a bold substitution that started things moving. In the 75th minute, Deane brought on defender Martin Thomte-Jensen to play as a forward, and his impact was immediate: from a Viking corner, Thorarinn Valdimarsson burst through midfield and played the ball wide to Thomte-Jensen, who lobbed the ball over the panicked defenders back into the path of Valdimarsson, for him to bury the ball low past the Viking goalkeeper. 

That put Sarpsborg in the clear, but it also put the pressure on the defence to keep the lead. That defence had only kept three clean sheets before adding a fourth in their last game at Molde, but there hadn’t been as much at stake before. And with the stakes high, they defended heroically, keeping Viking out – until the very end.

The game changed just as the clock ticked into the 89th minute. A hopeful aerial ball from Viking was flicked on at the edge of the box, and from a relatively harmless position Benjamin Sulimani stuck out a leg and managed to loop a volley over Duwayne Kerr in the Sarpsborg net. With their status too treachorous to risk dropping a point, Sarpsborg couldn’t afford to lie down and take the point, and four minutes of injury time meant the game wasn’t done yet. 

First Viking had a shot just over the bar, then at the other end Sarpsborg chipped a half-cleared corner back into the most dangerous of danger areas, the ball palmed away by the Viking goalkeeper but dropping at the feet of Mohammed Elyounoussi, stood all but on the back post. What happened next seemed to involve at least two shots, the post, and the goalkeeper; but whatever it was it didn’t result in a goal for Sarpsborg. 

In a frantic final minute of play the Sarpsborg defence’s incredible discipline finally reached its breaking point; a ball over the top caught the central defenders out of shape and static, and Kerr well out of his net, but he managed to save with his feet at the edge of the penalty area, before backing up quickly to save the follow up attempt with the same foot; Sarpsborg’s counter attack came to nothing but meant that when Viking burst forward again, they had three attackers bearing down on the goalkeeper. A goal was inevitable, and it was Vidar Nisja who received a pass that took out and put the ball into the unguarded net with twenty seconds of injury time remaining. 

The players wandered around the pitch for a while looking shocked; the Viking players as much as the heartbroken Sarpsborg team. Five minutes earlier it had been mission accomplished; now they were right back where they started in 14th, with home and away playoff matches against Ranheim to get through to keep their top flight status intact.

Brian Deane was philosophical. “This is football,” he told “We need to up the game. Ranheim is a good team and they are certainly ready for battle. But we are still a good team. We learned a lot this year and have everything to gain. “We have done wonderfully well. We are a small club with the smallest budget in the series. To do that we have done this year is good. Some of these players have grown through the season.”

Sarpsborg 08 will now face Ranheim away on Saturday 16th, then at home on Saturday 23rd, to decide which team will compete in the Tippeligaen next season.

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