Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1
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Brian Deane’s first season in management is going to go right to the last day of the season in Norway, but a stunning win over Molde on Sunday has given his Sarpsborg 08 side a great chance of achieving its target of playing in the top division again next season.

In the build up to the match, the Telegraph characterised the clash against Olle Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde as “a defining day for the reputations they are building as enterprising young managers,” and there won’t be a Leeds fan anywhere who isn’t pleased to see Deane victorious over the former Man Utd striker.

Deane took over at Sarpsborg 08 and was given the lowest budget in the top division of Norwegian football, with the target of keeping them in that division. With a philosophy of playing attractive, passing football, Deane has won a lot of plaudits even if his team haven’t won a lot of games. He told The Guardian in August that, “Coming to Sarpsborg is probably the best thing I’ve ever done,” even though at that point his team were on an eight game losing streak that put their Tippeligaen status in serious danger.

Those eight games had started with a 3-1 defeat at Molde, who have been managed since 2011 by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with two championships putting him in the frame for several management jobs in England. Four defeats in their opening four games of the season this time around left Molde chasing the leaders this time around, but seven wins and a draw in their previous eight games put them in contention for a European place.

Since putting their freefall period behind them, Sarpsborg had won three, drawn three and lost two, but the form book and the pedigree both made Molde favourites for Sunday’s match. In the bitter cold and rain of the Sarpsborg Stadion, though, a goal from Martin Wiig on the hour put Deane’s men ahead and set up a tense finale, and despite six minutes of injury time Sarpsborg 08 held out. 

The strain was evident on Deane’s face in the final moments, while Solskjaer looked uncomfortably on. And Deane couldn’t hide his relief when he was interviewed live by Norwegian television just after the final whistle. 

“Words, I don’t know!” he said. “Just the character in there, I’ve banged on about it all year. There’s some serious character in that changing room. To have the season that we’ve had, to lose eight games in a row and still have an opportunity to stay in the Tippeligaen is superb. They deserve everything and they deserve to stay up in my opinion.”

Some of the familiar Deane punchiness was present in the post-game interview, too. One of the pundits began to tell Deane how impressed he had been with Sarpsborg’s defence, but Deane cut him off mid-sentence. “Yep, and I know you guys have battered us. So take that one.”

The defensive performance, the clean sheet and the win all mean Sarpsborg 08 go into the final game next Sunday at Viking with a chance of finishing anywhere from 11th to 16th and bottom, but a win would mean the worst they could face would be a play-off match against a team from the division below for the right to play in the Tippeligaen next season. 

With the commitment Deane has instilled in the team to turn around their season, Sarpsborg must have a great chance of staying up. “This is one of the best defensive games we’ve played ever,” said the Sarpsborg captain, Heieren Hansen. “We stood like a wall back there. It was good to see how the guys sacrificed for the city and the club out there.”

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