DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, August 21, 2012
SønderjyskE vs OB Odense
Superligaen - Monday August 20, 2012
Haderslev Fodboldstadion
A curling second-half score by Conor O'Brien was not enough to save the day for SønderjyskE, as a pair of goals by Odense was enough to hand them their second loss of the season.

The only thing separating SønderjyskE and Odense over the first five weeks of the season was a goal differential slightly favoring the hosts. Otherwise, both entered the game on ten points and the exact same record, and in the position to take over sole possession of second place with a win.

Odense had a slight advantage in terms of current momentum, having won their last two on the bounce, while SønderjyskE had recovered from their first loss two weeks before with a slightly fortunate last-gasp win over Brøndby last Monday.

The hosts were on the attack from the opening whistle, coming close barely two minutes in as Lasse Vibe had the defense scrambling with a run up the right side only to fire his shot a few yards high.

Quincy Antipas continued their early charge, storming forward into the area in the eighth minute, and unable to get through the line of defenders, slid it wide for Vibe to take another crack - this time on frame but blocked. Then moments later, O'Brien had his first attempt when he connected with a cross from Daniel Christensen only to send it wide right.

The American spent much of his time locking down the midfield, and stopped an Odense counter attack after 17 minutes with a great tackle to dispossess Rurik Gislason and force a throw-in which eventually led to a blocked shot by visiting attacker Rasmus Falk Jensen.

In the 24th minute, a long-range attempt by Odense attacker Jensen forced keeper Hakon Opdal into conceding a corner. The ensuing corner was taken short, and Espen Ruut hit a low cross in front of goal. Opdal's block left the ball hanging in front of goal, where Rurik Gislason rushed in and slammed it into the underside of the top netting for the lead.

Odense had a close chance for a second just past the half-hour mark when Emil Larsen's cross from near the left corner flag to the far corner of the six-yard box was headed just over the crossbar by Gislason, however the hosts owned the final minutes of the half with several unsuccessful attempts.

First, a free kick by Henrik Hansen in the 36th minute was met by the head of Tommy Bechmann, who headed powerfully but just a tiny bit too high and to the left.

Then in the 45th, Christensen's rocket-powered blast from 35 yards was close but barely deflected out by a defender, leading to a corner that Bechmann nearly put away.

Finally in the last few seconds of added time, O'Brien received the ball on the right side around 30 yards from goal, took a couple touches to settle and looped a shot to the middle of goal, which was perfectly on-target, but blocked thanks to a spectacular save by keeper Mads Toppel.

After the halftime break, Odense were first to strike, and doubled their lead in the 51st minute.

A quick display of one-touch short passing around the penalty spot left Cedric N'Koum with the opportunity to take a shot. Opdal blocked the shot, but the ball dropped directly in front of Email Larsen for an easy finish into the open net.

Rather than concede the likely defeat, SønderjyskE pushed back for the remainder of the game, and a goal five minutes after their guests took the 2-0 lead kept the game within reach.

Jarl Andre Storbaek received a pass on the right win and cut to his left towards the top of the box drawing the defense in the process. At the last second, he slid a pass to O'Brien who was waiting three yards outside the upper edge nearly straight out, and the American perfectly placed his looping shot into the upper left corner, beyond Toppel's outstretched fingers.

"Lasse [Vibe] and Jarl [Andre Storbaek] were making good runs down the right wing," O'Brien described of the play. "I was screaming for the ball because I was coming in free, and he gave me a good pass from 20 or 25 meters out."

"I let it roll across my body, picked my head up to look for the goal, tried to hit it to the top left corner and fortunately it went exactly where I was aiming."

The rest of the game was an open affair, and while the hosts held an undeniable advantage in terms of chances, Odense were not without their own.

Daniel Høegh's header took all by surprise and hit the left upright in the 57th minute, then four minutes later, Gislason tried to pull a low shot from just outside the area to the near corner and was barely too far to the left.

O'Brien had a 22-yard attempt in the 65th minute that was blocked, and on the follow-up counter-attack by Odense, Gislason had another close call, sending his low shot from the left to the far lower corner two yards wide.

Three minutes later, Antipas and Vibe stormed forward amidst a group of five Odense defenders. Antipas did well to evade his marks and work to the endline to the right of goal, where he aimed a cross at the near post. Vibe was in position to tuck it away, but the keeper was just inches ahead of him, scooping the ball to safety.

Odense thought they had their third goal in the 70th minute, however Emil Larsen's shot was called for offside.

Ten minutes later, Antipas nearly took the game into his own hands, receiving a pass on the right side, cutting inwards, and not liking any of his passing options, hit a low shot to the lower left corner that was a touch wide.

Then two minutes later, Vibe continued the onslaught with a low awkward shot that was blocked out by Toppel, and two minutes after that, O'Brien had an attempt just outside the area that was just high.

Odense did well to slow down the game over the final five minutes of regulation and the first two minutes of added time, however in the final moments, Antipas found Florian Hart open on the left side. Hart tried a blazing shot towards the far side, however Toppel did his job, making the game-saving block to preserve the win.

"I actually thought we played a pretty good game today," O'Brien expressed afterwards, adding the caveat, "it's always tough to lose points when you feel like you've played a good game.

"Odense are a good team and they are usually at the top of the league because they can find ways to win even when the other team plays well. I thought we played well, We just didn't do the most with our chances and finish our goals, and sometimes that will come back to bite you."

O'Brien pinpointed Odense keeper Toppel as one of the key factors in the result. Despite the usual backup having to come in thanks to an injury to their usual starter, he continually thwarted SønderjyskE with a number of key saves.

"On a team like Odense, even their backups are top class goalies," he compliments. "Except for last year, they have always been competing for the title, so they are going to have talent from 1-25. [Toppel] made some incredible saves today to keep them in the game and deserves a lot of credit for their win."

SønderjyskE finish the round of games down in sixth place after the loss, although still only four points off the lead in a remarkably tight race in the upper half of the standings.

They will have just four days rest before facing another tough test on Friday evening, as they must travel to Copenhagen to take on reigning champions FC Nordsjaelland.

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