This weekend saw the final round of regular season fixtures for the newly restructured Danish Superliga prior to the end of season play-offs. The new set-up breaks the league into a top six and bottom eight at the 26-match mark, with that eight then splitting (initially) into two pools of four in the battle to avoid relegation.
Ahead of this match Sønderjyske sat 5th on 36 points with Randers one place, and three points, below them. A draw was enough for the home side to seal their top six place but defeat would have bought goal difference into play if Aalborg, 7th at the start of play, were to secure an away win at bottom side Viborg. Randers, on the other hand, knew that anything less than victory in this game would leave them relying on the results of Aalborg and FC Nordsjaelland to be in their favour.
These two sides had in fact met earlier in the week in the Cup – and although Randers had come out on top on that occasion, albeit against a much changed Sønderjyske team, it was the home side that had displayed the better recent league form. The domestic campaign had started poorly for the Haderslev outfit as they prioritised their historic European campaign, only to fall at the final hurdle before the Europa League group stages, but a less hectic schedule thereafter allowed a period of consolidation before the end of the autumn season.
However, winter saw the departure of highly-rated head coach Jakob Michelsen, as well as the sale of three key first team figures, to Hammarby and FC Midtjylland respectively, leaving many to doubt their top six aspirations upon the return to league action in February. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a slow start followed, but consecutive victories at strugglers AGF and Odense had been enough to leave them well placed ahead of this fixture.
In contrast, Randers had begun the season in impressive fashion under new coach Ólafur Kristjánsson before falling away badly in recent months. Despite ending the autumn season in 4th, last weekend’s 1-1 draw at AGF ended a run of seven successive losses in the league, during which time the side had gone six consecutive games without a goal. The club have clearly been missing departed top scorer Mikael Ishak, who moved to Nurnberg, and with a top six spot their stated aim at the start of the season, it was clear how crucial this fixture was.
The surface was slick, and steady rain did not make for the easiest of conditions but it was the hosts who made the better start with lone striker Uhre using his pace to good effect. It was the visitors, however, who had the first effort on target with Mayron George, who – making his first league start of the spring season – saw his effort from the angle comfortably blocked by Fernandes at his near post. As the half wore on Randers continued to grow in confidence with creative spark Kasper Fisker seeing plenty of the ball. The home side’s defending was becoming increasingly frenetic and one poor clearance gave Poulsen a clear sight of goal, but he was only able to direct his header straight at the keeper. Half time arrived with the game goalless, but elsewhere FC Nordsjaelland had taken the lead at FC MIdtjylland and Randers had dropped to seventh at this point.
With a goal now a necessity, Randers started the second half brightly in front of the travelling contingent and created the game’s best chance within minutes of the restart. George fired across the box towards an unmarked Marvin Pourie, however with the goal at his mercy from only a yard out, the recent goalscoring woes resurfaced and his scuffed effort was gathered by Fernandes on the goalline. The hosts looked content to play for a point but they were living dangerously as the Randers pressure continued to mount. First Pourie saw a free kick parried wide before George was played through on goal by Fisker, only to side foot just past the post.
As the match wore on, gaps began to emerge for the home side on the counter-attack and the introduction of ZInckernagel almost paid immediate dividends as he created a half chance for Klove that was blocked. The game was now in the last 15 minutes but all semblance of composure continued to desert the visitors with Poulsen again showing why he has only managed one goal for the club in slicing wildly over from 15 yards out. Although FCN had doubled their lead at the MCH Arena, one goal would still have been enough for Randers at this stage but it was Sønderjyske who eventually delivered what by now felt like an inevitable sucker punch in the 83rd minute. Halldórsson could only parry a header from Jakobsen and young substitute Mikkel Hedegaard found himself in the right place at the right time to poke home his second crucial goal in the space of 3 league matches, thus sending a rain-soaked Sydbank Park into raptures. Although the visitors continued to push until the final whistle, they were unable to create any more meaningful chances as Sønderjyske saw out the final minutes relatively comfortably to secure victory by a single goal.
Victory for the home side, combined with FC Midtjylland’s eventual 2-1 defeat to FCN, saw them finish the regular season in an impressive fourth and well placed to fight for a European position over the remainder of the campaign. But for Randers, this match only further indicated where their issues lie as they paid the price for failing to convert a number of gilt edged opportunities. Their torrid recent run now reads just one point collected out of 27, and while the new structure does give them an outside chance of attaining a Europa League qualifying berth, their focus will now turn to securing their top tier status for another season.
Tom Sanders (Denmark Superligaen Analyst)
Follow Tom on Twitter @FRfodboldTom for insight and all the latest news on Danish domestic football.
Think you can hack it? If you think you are up for the challenge of working at Football Radar, check our current listings and see if you’re ready for the team.