DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Benny Feilhaber and Aarhus will be under pressure to produce a home win against SønderjyskE while Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjælland face a difficult trip to Odense as the Danish Superligaen enters its home stretch.
AGF Aarhus - SønderjyskE
Following the weekend's huge win to pull free of the relegation places, Benny Feilhaber and Aarhus will need to bring the momentum back to their home stadium in a six-pointer against SønderjyskE on Thursday.
Saturday's 4-1 win over Silkeborg temporarily took them barely above the drop zone, but the pressure is still on to ground out results in their final three games as Randers is just one point behind and is still in the midst of a 14-game undefeated streak.
The schedule-makers were perhaps looking into their crystal ball when they put Thursday's home contest against SønderjyskE into the calendar, since the outcome looks to be a candidate as the major deciding factor in who will suffer the drop.
Both teams are in strikingly similar situations in sharing the same number of points, although SønderjyskE hold a slight edge in goal differential. Each team also faces a tricky final two games of the season, possibly making this their last chance to get some valuable breathing room.
A win by Aarhus would send them a minimum of three points above the relegation line, while a draw or a loss could potentially see them falling back below the surface, depending on the outcome of Randers' home game against Aalborg the night before.
With red-hot Nordsjælland, riding an undefeated streak of eight games, and champions-in-waiting Copenhagen on the schedule for the final two weeks, anything short of a victory could spell doom for Erik Rassmussen's men.
The team received a huge boost over the weekend when leading goalscoring threat Peter Graulund returned to the starting lineup in grand fashion, and were happy to see 18 year-old Caspar Sloth excel in the support striker role, filling the shoes of the injured David Devdriani.
In addition to Devdriani, Kim Madsen and Ulrik Lindkvist will likely continue to be left out of Rassmussen's squad with nagging injuries.
SønderjyskE will have some measure of confidence after ending Odense's final hopes of catching Copenhagen for the title thanks to their 2-0 win over the second-place team on Monday, and should have a full squad ready to go for the encounter.
Odense BK - FC Nordsjælland
Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjælland hold slim hopes of pushing up into the league's top spots over the season's final three weeks, but will need to begin with the tough task of earning a win in Odense on Thursday.
The Wild Tigers have found their spark at the perfect time, and are closing their season on a strong note having run off a string of eight straight games without a loss.
While they could just manage a draw over the weekend against Randers, the only team in the league currently on a longer undefeated streak, they have still put themselves in contention to make a run for their best-ever league finish, previously standing at fifth-place.
They will need to first get an important road win at Odense on Thursday in order to have any chance to make up the four-point difference separating them from fourth place, and will likely be feeling up to the task.
Even though their opponents have posted another strong campaign and will almost certainly earn their second straight silver medal in the league, the last week has been a tough one as they were knocked out of the Danish Cup semifinal round by Midtjylland a week prior, then saw their last dim hopes of catching Copenhagen for the title fade on Monday thanks to a 2-0 loss to SønderjyskE.
Nordsjælland coach Morten Wieghorst could welcome attacking midfielder Sibusiso Zuma and Andreas Laudrup back to the squad as both have been back in full practice for several days after missing extended time with injury.
Midfielder Nicolai Stockholm will most likely still be sidelined with a slight knee injury and backup keeper Nenad Novakovic is also recovering from a shoulder problem and will not suit up.
Odense will be missing forward Johan Absalonsen, who continues to be out with an injury.
Chris Rolfe has incurred a slight hamstring pull and Marcus Tracy is out with a knee problem, meaning neither will be in uniform to aid Aalborg in their quest for third place on their trip to red-hot Randers on Wednesday.