Inter v Haka
Since Inter’s last league game, a lot has happened. Losing the Suomen Cup final to KuPS saw manager Miguel Grau sacked, while former Ilves boss Jarkko Wiss has been announced as the coach for 2023 but the side will be allowed to drift until then. The board were clear that the playing side were not going in the right direction, despite Inter being one of the most stable and well backed clubs in the division. Wiss did well in establishing Ilves as a top flight side and Inter will expect top three finishes from their new manager. The current squad is nowhere near that level now, Petteri Forsell keeps doing his best to bring the magic but there’s little attacking threat and will do well to make much progress in the end of season Conference League play-offs.
Haka meanwhile have had a very good 2022 by their standards. Fourth in the regular season is a huge improvement on last year and Teemu Tainio’s solid base has a bite sadly lacking before. Scotsman Lee Erwin has scored 14 goals and been a revelation but he is set to leave in the winter and will be a tough act to follow. New Zealand midfielder Ollie Whyte has played well alongside winger Stavros Zarokostas and both provide effective support. Haka declined big money offers for Erwin in the summer in the hope of a European push and will fancy getting three points from this game to keep up a previously unlikely tilt at a bronze medal.
HIFK v Ilves
HIFK’s long awaited relegation could be confirmed in this fixture, a repeat of one of the most shameful scenes of the season as their star signing Beto was sent off and had to be physically removed from the field. One win in 2022 (away to Ilves) is a sorry return and Mixu Paatelainen’s side are destined to drop. Roman Eremenko returned to the side in the last outing away to AC Oulu and scored a smart but inconsequential goal in a 4-1 defeat. Eetu Puro is banned after a mindless tackle brought him a red card in that game, a sixth red for the club this year.
Ilves rotten form saw them lose 2-3 at home to VPS last time out, despite leading in the second half. One win in twelve has been a very hard watch after a fairly decent start, with only the equally poor form of Lahti below them means they’re unlikely to face the relegation play-off. Despite the signing of Adam Larsson in the summer, his early goals have faded into memory and the reliance on Petteri Pennanen is too much on one ageing player. The only silver lining against VPS was a goal from Kai Meriluoto, only his second since May and perhaps the start of a late season run in the side.
Ilves should have enough individual quality to win this game but they are in a huge funk and could yet finish the season as the only side to lose to HIFK. The peril of these relegation rounds are two teams in poor form hoping for a spark.
IFK Mariehamn v AC Oulu
The “top two” of the relegation group are definitely the sides with most attacking threat and have come into the final phase with little to fear from relegation and still a chance of European football.
A sluggish early season where goals were hard to come by seemed to put Mariehamn in another struggle at the bottom, but the rhythm eventually made it to the island and they finished the regular season with a comprehensive 2-0 win against SJK then battered Lahti 6-0 last time out. The return of Jamie Hopcutt, the English forward who left Oldham in the spring, has brought some guile and power to the attack and he scored a brace and looked very smart indeed. The caveat was that it was against a bereft Lahti and this match is against an Oulu side who will punish any soft defending.
Oulu’s recent form has been excellent, boosted by two comfortable wins against HIFK (10-2 on aggregate) and only a late equaliser from three points at Honka. Karjalainen and Liimatta were outstanding in their last fixture and the two will want to finish the season in style – the latter is set to move abroad and will hopefully continue his continued development at his next club. Oulu’s place in the bottom half was due to poor administration – 2023 should yield more positivity and young English keeper Calum Ward has signed a contract extension to provide a solid base.
Honka v HJK
The final match in the regular season was a close affair in front of a huge crowd, settled in injury time by a winner from Anthony Olusanya as HJK seized top spot from KuPS. Honka have been a sensation this year, topping the table in August but falling away with defeats in their final two fixtures as the title appears to be beyond them now and they face a challenge to maintain their European place.
It would be cruel if this Honka were denied a medal after pushing HJK and KuPS so far, their attacking gusto has been great to watch. The emergence of Agon Sadiku has seen a real talent, assisted regularly by Rui Modesto and Kevin Jansen. It is perhaps inexperience rather than ability which has seen the drop in form, but they will relish another go at an HJK side with their eyes and players elsewhere.
HJK had a number of key players on duty with Finland this week, with Lucas Lingman starting in sapping conditions in Montenegro on Monday so he’s unlikely to start here. The squad is more than big enough to rotate but the remaining veterans will face a very tiring task in Espoo. With a Europa League double header against Ludogorets coming up, the biggest roster will face a test if they are to retain their domestic title. The Euro 2020 linchpins Joona Toivio and Paulus Arajuuri are yet to start a game together and Klubi could really do with their knowhow against their young opponents.
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