HIFK v Mariehamn
HIFK’s relegation was finally confirmed last weekend after another insipid display, losing 4-0 away to VPS. Coach Mixu Paatelainen stated he would leave his post at the end of the season, but by Wednesday he had left for good. This match sees the end of the playing careers of Jani Backman and Jukka Halme as HIFK look to rebuild after a truly horrible end to their four years in the top flight. Roman Eremenko has proved he still has the quality to remain in Veikkausliiga next season if he wishes, but off the pitch the constant infighting and changes at board level have given nothing but uncertainty. While interim coach Teemu Kankkunen will manage the last two games, there may be some freedom.
Despite being in the bottom half, Mariehamn are still in contention for a Conference League play off thanks to KuPS winning the Suomen Cup. A good win against Ilves last week has given momentum after a difficult season and they’re scoring plenty of goals in the process, the veteran John Owoeri is now on nine for the season. With the carrot of a return to Europe, the side are dangerous and will fancy their chances of improving their goal difference against their beaten opponents. They are missing Alvaro Ngamba through suspension, he has been a source of drive and energy but there is more than enough to succeed here. The two league matches between the sides ended 1-1 but Mariehamn dominated both and are in great form in front of goal.
VPS v AC Oulu
Vepsu secured their top flight status for 2023 last week with their comfortable win against HIFK, their third win in three since the league split. Kalle Multanen’s thirteenth goal of the season continues his late bloom and Tete Yengi got his first in two months, while the form of English right back Tyler Reid has been excellent. With that position safe, planning for next season can begin but they need to work on their defensive solidity if they keep their attacking threat. The last meeting between these two sides ended 0-6 to VPS and while a repeat is unlikely, this should be an open game.
Oulu have also won their three games since the split, although last week they made hard work of beating Lahti 2-1. A Bergkamp-esque goal from Magnus Breitenmoser was the highlight, but he will miss this match due to suspension for collecting his tenth booking of 2022. Otso Liimatta and Rasmus Karjalainen were deservedly named in the team of the month for September after their performances and will be the most likely to test the VPS defence. Striker Niklas Jokelainen has signed a new two year contract after impressing since dropping into midfield. Oulu have confirmed their seventh place already and will play the sixth place team in the European play-off for a chance to cement their improvement on 2021’s eleventh.
The two top scorers in the bottom half aren’t faultless in defence and might have done better with a more solid back line. Expect goals.
KuPS v Inter
After an impressive display against Honka last weekend, KuPS have seen their title challenge virtually end this week with a poor 0-0 draw at home to Honka which all but gives the championship to HJK. The freedom afforded to “the Latvian Litmanen” Janis Ikaunieks by Honka was not repeated, a resolute Haka team playing to their strengths and the recurring theme of the second half of the season is that KuPS are struggling to break down a well organised defence. Against Inter, they may face a similar predicament, the recent meeting in the Finnish Cup final was decided by a late goal and the two teams virtually cancelled each other out. The normally dangerous Tim Vayrynen has only made substitute appearances in the last two matches and would expect to return to the starting XI here.
Inter lost to Honka on Thursday night but had enough chances, a missed penalty from Petteri Forsell and they created more openings, but the clinical finishing of Agon Sadiku was the difference and Inter have now lost all three matches since the split. A nicely taken goal by Matias Tamminen was welcome but he’s still only 20 himself and was just his fourth in 24 matches. Wholesale changes will be coming in over the winter but Inter will have at least one extra game to come, probably against AC Oulu in the play-offs. Inter are missing defensive lynchpin Roger Bonet and Rodrigo Arciero to weaken them further.
KuPS may well be in a position where even a win in this match might not be enough to regain the title and after the fantastic start and again have run out of steam. They should have enough here to keep some pressure on HJK but it will be tough.
Haka v HJK
What could have been a title decider a month or so ago is more of a title eliminator – KuPS losing timidly to SJK was followed by Honka coming from behind to beat HJK and keep the race alive for a little longer at least. KuPS could narrow the gap to two points with a win, but haven’t beaten a top six side at home since May.
The form of KuPS since the summer has been that of mid-table mediocrity rather than challengers. At SJK, they performed poorly and without much purpose, yet only lost due to a comical own goal, a heavy deflection and the Seinajoki woodwork remaining strong. Coach Simo Valakari was critical in his appraisal of the side, making a triple substitution at half time and lamenting the absence of key threat Janis Ikaunieks due to international duty. This fixture in August was a game of two halves, KuPS dominating the first half before retreating on a 1-0 lead and allowing Honka free rein to attack.
A run of one point from nine derailed Honka’s tilt at the title at the end of the regular season and the trophy is now beyond them, but they still have huge influence. Beating HJK on Thursday was a statement of intent that they are still dangerous. They still need points to guarantee a Conference League place next season and Agon Sadiku scored again to take his tally to eleven for the season. His pace and raw talent will test a shaken KuPS defence in the way they did in their last meeting.
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