Lahti v IFK Mariehamn
A first win in six for Lahti last week was a huge boost in their survival chances, but it was something of a smash and grab away to VPS. Scoring three goals from four shots on target was a welcome relief after some barren games, but they need to keep that clinical level up against Mariehamn.
Geoffrey Chinedu managed a brace in that game, his first league goals since April. But against one of the most dangerous attacks in the league, they conceded two, managing to repel 22 shots on goal. The ill-discipline that has ravaged their season was evident again with six yellow cards, they will be without key midfielder Eemili Virta for totting up bookings. If they can be as clinical against Mariehamn, they will do well now that the gap between the sides is down to just one point with a relegation play-off looming.
Mariehamn were humbled by a rampant Ilves on Sunday, conceding four goals in the first half and looking a shambles. Weak defending and giving away cheap set pieces cost them dearly and this game is far more tense as a result. The signing of Finland defender Albin Granlund was a huge boost, but he spent the entire match on the bench watching his new colleagues suffer. Their other new signing Jamie Hopcutt is unlikely to feature in this game after suffering an injury on his debut, his experience will be missed.
Lahti’s new found confidence will be vital in this fixture and this will be their best chance to secure points before the league splits.
Honka v AC Oulu
Monday’s 4-1 win against HIFK saw Honka return to the top of the table, attracting a huge crowd of ten times that of their opening fixture of the season. HIFK provided little resistance as the top scorers cut through them at will and boosted their goal difference. The top three are all tied on forty points and will no doubt continue to fight into the Championship phase.
Kevin Jansen’s return to goalscoring form has been a welcome change to the list of scorers, he grabbed two including a very pleasant finish for the third. He did miss a penalty in the previous game against Ilves and has been a constant in the fluid play that has seen this unlikely title challenge. Rui Modesto again provided an assist (for that third goal) that has seen him one of the most dangerous players in the division. Honka will struggle to keep hold of the stars of this side in the winter but European football may be the key.
Oulu’s win against Inter Turku last week has been cast into doubt over suggestions that they fielded too many players without “home-grown” status. An otherwise impressive display was capped with a fine late winner from substitute Luquinhas. The side were down to ten men after debutant Issa Sekajja was sent off for a dangerous lunge on the goalkeeper, but Oulu kept afloat despite allowing Inter several chances.
These two sides have been amongst the best to watch this season and it should be a very open fixture containing a minimum of 3 goals.
Inter Turku v KuPS
Inter were wasteful in their defeat to AC Oulu last week and may yet claim three points due to ineligible players. Three of their last four matches have seen their opponents having a player sent off, but they’re not taking advantage of that. Against title challenging KuPS, they will have to up their game far more than they’ve shown this season.
They were caught offside fifteen times on Sunday, against a side who have shown a reckless streak. Yet they just can’t find that regular goalscorer since losing Benjamin Kallman. A side with their infrastructure and backing consistently loiters in the mid-table and are still harbouring hopes a top half finish.
KuPS meanwhile are in their worst run for quite some time, their last six weeks has been damaging to their title challenge and knocked out of Europe. Seeing HJK progress in continental competition only widens the financial gap while Honka’s fearless displays have forced KuPS into a more pragmatic style which doesn’t look too comfortable. For this match, they’re without first choice keeper Johannes Kreidl (straight red for handball) and Janis Ikaunieks (yellow cards) which will damage them further. While the core of the squad is strong, they will hugely miss the set piece threat and guile of Ikaunieks.
The side looked hesitant against SJK, the ten men didn’t gel and allowed SJK more shots than they would like. Coach Simo Valakari has his work cut out to keep up with the others at the top.
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