#2 – NAVIGATING NORWAY

Welcome back to Navigating Norway! It’s a new season in a new league and boy is it exciting. We’re already only one promotion away from being in Norway’s top flight, not that I’m expecting us to make it two promotions on the bounce. That just isn’t going to happen. But we can use this season to improve the squad, avoid a relegation battle and build a platform to give us the best chance of making the step up in the season that follows.

Check out Episode 1 here.

The OBOS-Ligaen operates with the top two going straight up with four places providing the playoffs. At the opposite end of the table, the bottom two are relegated whilst 14th place goes into a relegation playoff with the side that finishes 2nd in the league below — the league we just got ourselves out of — and I’m fairly hopeful that we’ll be nowhere near these bottom three positions. The media predicts us to finish 12th which looks good for us whilst we are 50/1 to win the whole damn thing.

Let’s dive straight into pre-season and signings!

PRE-SEASON REVIEW 2022

It was yet another long pre-season in Norway and on this occasion we played a total of 12 games to get the fitness levels up and get the tactical familiarity bar back where it should be. Tactics-wise we remained the same. Our 3–2–2–1–2 formation was dominant last time out and there’s no reason it cannot do the same in the OBOS-Ligaen. The results were mixed however although we did play a mix of clubs that are far better than us as well as a few sides in divisions lower than ourselves.

In all, we played an English and Russian Premier League side as well as three Norweigan Elite Serien teams. I wanted us to have some big tests to give me an idea of the level we have in terms of players. We won 7 whilst losing 5 over between January and March and it’s a pleasing return when you factor in the quality of opposition we faced.

Bodo/Glimt — in the division above us defeated us 3–0 but their first goal came in the 71st minute, we were holding our own. Russia’s Sochi eased past us 4–1 whilst we had Norwich pegged back at 1–1 up until the 80th minute before an onslaught of late goals saw them walk away 5–1 winners. Spanish side Huesca needed late goals to beat us also. We can certainly mix it with the best it seems, a few additions to the squad over the next few years and we could be golden.

Talking of additions. We only made two.

26-year-old centre half Kevin Jablinski joined on a free transfer to bolster the defence. He’s at a decent age and the plan is that he’ll grow into a starting place and lead the backline for the next 5/6 years. He’s not in his prime yet which is the most promising aspect of his arrival. Our other signing is Noah Solskjaer — whether he is a relation to manager Fredrik we’ll still never know — who joins on loan from Sogndal. At 21, he is one for the future but he already looks to be a very useful central midfielder. He’ll be going straight into the starting XI meaning Morten Gamst Pedersen can affect games from the bench. Other than that we lost nobody during the off-season and we’re all raring to go.

MID-SEASON REVIEW 2022

At the halfway stage of the OBOS Ligaen, we sit SECOND. We’ve been brilliant and you could easily mistake us for a team playing at this level for years. We’ve taken to this new division like Arsenal’s Gabriel to a controversial red card. We are not absolute in 2nd position as Odds to have a game in hand. In the Braathens Cup (Norweigan FA Cup) we have also made it through to the quarter-finals where we’ll play Premier League side Lillestrom at home.

Our first game of the season saw us defeat Fredrikstad 2–1 at home where Morten Gamst Pedersen broke the record as the oldest ever player in the OBOS Ligaen at 40 years and 207 days old. He even provided the assist for Andreas Lovland’s winning goal in the 51st minute. As you’ll see on the squad screen shortly it is the strike partnership of Lovland and Lysvoll that sees us sitting so high up in the table, they have been phenomenal upfront together just as they were in our previous campaign.

We actually remained unbeaten in our first 8 games winning 6 and drawing 2 as we sat atop of our division. Wins over HamKam, Strommen, Goroud, Ull/Kisa and Sandes (including our opening day win vs Fredrikstad) whilst we drew with Aalesund 1–1 and Start 2–2, both games of which we led 1–0 and 2–0. It could and perhaps should have been 8 wins from 8. In the cup, we defeated Melhus 2–1, Ullern 3–0 and Start 1–0 as we stamped some authority on the nation’s top cup competition.

Our first defeat came at the hands of Odds who started slow but are now living up to their tag of favourites as they easily swept us aside 3–1 on their own patch. Our late goal was undeserved but at least we had something to call a positive. We bounced back with a 4–2 win over Stjordals-Blink and then failed to beat the two bottom sides as we drew 1–1 and 0–0 with KFUM Oslo and Raufoss Fotball. We had lost the top spot now but with so long left to go our target of avoiding a relegation battle has now turned into securing a playoff spot at a minimum.

Following our double-header with the bottom two in the league we defeated Stromsgodset of the Norweigan Premier League 3–1 at home to advance to the quarter-finals and followed that with another 3–1 victory, this time away to Arendal. We reached the halfway stage of the league campaign with a home game against neighbours — and affiliated club — Tromso who had been relegated from the top division last season. They showed how good they were as they were 4–0 up on 56 minutes. We couldn’t live with them. We did rally and reduced the scoreline to a 4–2 but that’s as good as it got for us.

It’s looking positive as we move into the business end of the season. Sitting in 2nd place is something I never could have imagined, it has helped us that all the sides just below us, as well as in mid-table, have been so hit and miss with their own results whilst we have been able to go on winning runs. That was a big factor in our success last season and it looks as though it could be the same this time around. With how good Tromso and Odds are though I still believe that the playoffs are now our likeliest destination and route to the Norwegian top division but who knows?

END OF SEASON REVIEW 2022

The league season has ended and as you can see we have finished in 3rd place. It did not come down to the final day as it looks like, we defeated Tromso 1–0 away from home on the last day but we were 4 points behind them going into the game. Odds ran away with it as I assumed they might but we battled and battled for that second automatic promotion spot and evidently failed. As I’ll explain later, it was our own fault for not being able to celebrate automatic promotion however we are in the playoffs, there’s still a chance!

In our first outing since the mid-season update, we were knocked out in the Braathens Cup quart-final. Sigurd Gronli’s equaliser in the 57th minute meant that we took Lillestrom — 4th in the Norwegian PL at the time — to extra time where we lost out through Brunes’ goal in the 110th minute. It was a tough defeat to take I felt we edged the encounter but from this point forward our full focus was on making promotion a reality.

It started out well for us as a 6 game unbeaten run saw us sit firmly in 2nd place. Draws with Fredrikstad, HamKam and Ull/Kisa and wins at the expense of Strommen, Goroud and Aalesund. The draws at home HamKam (2–2) and Ull/Kisa (0–0) were horrible, we dominated both and should have won. It was the same as our draws against the bottom two at the beginning of June. I knew these would be games that would cost us.

We then played four in August and only managed one victory. We scored our only goal of the month in a 1–0 win at home to Start whilst losing 1–0 to both Sandnes and eventual league champions, Odds.

September was also a disappointing month as although sticking five past KFUM Oslo we threw away leads to draw 1–1 with Stjordals-Blink and 2–2 with Raufoss Fotball. We had three games left to play and had to win them all, hoping that results elsewhere would go our way. We started the run of games with a 3–0 win at home to Arendal. Tromso lost at Strommen. We then won at home again, a 3–1 triumph over Asane Fotball. Tromso picked up a point in their game meaning our 1–0 win away at Tromso on the final day couldn’t see us overtake them and celebrate promotion.

I was frustrated that we had blown it. The four draws against the bottom sides in which we led in all of them were our downfall. The 2–2 draw at home to Raufoss at the end of September saw us surrender a 2–0 lead in the last 5 minutes of the game. Had we held on for that 5 minutes we would have finished 2nd. It’s all small margins and all of those cliches but I can’t help but think of what could have been. We still of course have another shot at making it to the Norweigan Elite Serien.

THE OBOS LIGAEN PLAYOFFS

The OBOS Ligaen playoffs consist of a one-off semi-final and final. Our playoff semi-final would see us take on IK Start at home. Home advantage? Perfect. We had played Start three times over the course of the season. We defeated them 1–0 in the cup whilst drawing 2–2 at their ground and winning 1–0 on ours. It was a good omen to have and with no major injuries in the squad, we looked suitably prepared to take them on and reach the final.

But it was not to be. Start led 2–0 at halftime through goals from Haraldsen and Ugland and I had no arguments, we were having an off day and there was nothing I could do about it. Both of their goals were well worked and I could only sit back and watch as our season was ending with nothing to celebrate. Lysvoll converted a penalty in the 71st minute to get us back into the game but we failed to build on it. The game finished at 2–1 seeing Start advance to the final and leaving us to lick our wounds and pinpoint where it all went wrong.

There are many positives this season though of course. We have overachieved massively and were only one point off the automatic spots in the league after 30 games. Next season we’ll go again and hopefully go one better. The squad screen below shows just how good we are going forward. Our full-backs provide assists, Sigurd Gronli at 21-years-old made 23 goal contributions whilst Lovland and Lysvoll up top, scored 38 goals between them.

I did manage to get key players with contracts running out to sign new deals so our squad will remain similar next season although I am looking into bringing in a few new faces. On a personal level, our face of the save Fredrik Solskjaer celebrated a one-year contract extension meaning the fun will continue at Tromsdalen. I’m enjoying this save in Norway and I’m almost certain that one day we’ll be seeing this small club from the municipality of Tromso in the UEFA Champions League group stages. I will not stop until that dream becomes a reality.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and I’ll see you next time!

Jamie | TarrantinoUX

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