If you missed the beginning of this series, the archive is posted on the FM Tales page.
Into the wringer we go with a dense pile of fixtures made worse by the absence of one of our key players, the attacking midfielder Sane. And we start against the current league leaders...
Danish Premier - Randers 0:2 København
Predictable. And confirmation of my shopping needs during the winter break. København are much, much better than we are, so I was playing a counter game the whole way. And we were making a pretty good show of it until our keeper made a hash of a shot right at him and deflected it into his own net. Ugh. César Santín was running riot for København, and he added the second from close range in the fourth minute of four minutes of stoppage time, less than a minute after we almost salvaged something from the match when a Nygaard shot hit both crossbar and post. The keepers and central defense are my biggest issues right now.
Danish Premier - Randers 3:2 Esbjerg
I'm not sure who I want to toss under the bus more: my center backs or my keeper. We started well, utility man and fan-favorite Søren Pedersen finishing a sweeping team move just before the quarter hour mark. Five minutes later they got a head to a ball lofted into the box and, despite tight marking, managed to dink one towards the net that looked like it went right through my keeper's legs...ever so slowly.
We came back almost immediately, Zhou Haibin, playing the a-mid role in place of the injured Sane, blasting home the finish inside the box after a long series of passes. Things should have been wrapped up when Zhou hit his second early in the second half, a screamer from the edge of the box. But we managed to allow them another slow headed goal with 20 minutes to go. Fortunately, we hung on for the three points with Yank abroad Preston Zimmerman getting his first look at league action off the bench.
Danish Premier - Aalborg 1:0 Randers
Almost got lucky. With the fourth round of the cup only three days away, I ran out a weakened side away to Aalborg and almost managed to snatch a draw. We had a number of decent attempts at goal, but my efforts were hindered by having to bring off Zimmerman at the half due to injury then losing his replacement, König, within five minutes of the restart. Add in my other available forward, Nygaard, having a miserable game, and were were always going to struggle to score. We did manage to keep Aalborg's all-American strike force of Rolfe and Tracy quiet, but their right mid scored on an unstoppable rocket from a tight angle.
Danish Cup, Fourth Round - AC Horsens 1:2 Randers
The rested starters were back in action and looked hungry early. After a couple of missed chances and a handful of corners, d-mid Morten Karlsen hammered one home from 25 yards. Five minutes later we should have been up a pair, but Movsisyan's dash through the middle to get on the end of a free kick and neat, far post finish was called back for offsides. Horsens started coming into it near the halfway mark and equalized shortly after the half from a powerful long-distance drive.
One of their midfielders was really dictating the play for them and their fullbacks were overlapping to good effect, so I had Zhou, playing in the #10 spot, mark the creative midfielder tightly and pushed my wings right up on the fullbacks. Result? We started controlling the match again. I ordered a sub on to replace the underachieving Ricki Olsen on the right wing, only for Olsen's last contribution to be a "firm diving header" for the winner.
An "enthusiastic midfielder" named Olsen popping up with crucial late headed goals? Am I still in Denmark? What year is it? Are we wearing pale blue or black with three white stripes?
Through to the quarterfinals of the cup, which was the minimum expectation from the board, but it doesn't look like we're going any farther. With four quality sides and three about equal to us in the draw, we get one of the two best, our archrivals Aarhus, who have dominated us in both matches we've played against them this season. To make matters worse, we'll be on the road. It never rains but it pours, eh?
Danish Premier - Randers 2:2 Odense
Frustrating game that highlights the need for improvement in central defense and between the posts. Due to injuries, tiredness from the cup match, and a suspension to highly influential central midfielder Morten Karlsen, I was forced into a less than ideal lineup. The early stages of the match provided the template for the game. We controlled possession, got the ball wide, but couldn't win enough headers in the box. On the counter, OB's superior athleticism and technical ability were causing headaches for my speed-limited center backs. Our breakthrough came via Lorentzen bursting down the left, touching one through to Nygaard, who powered one at goal that their keeper deflected onto the crossbar. The ensuing rebound was finished from a tight angle by Zhou, following up the play from his a-mid spot.
They responded close to halftime. Their forward rose over our two center backs to head home from inside the six, despite my centerbacks' sole strength being their prowess in the air. At the half, I pushed my wings forward and dropped Kelly Gray into a deeper holding role to disrupt the a-mid at the point of their midfield diamond. The dividends were immediate: Nygaard with a quality finish tucked in the near post after he spun his defender. We almost had the third from two successive corners around the hour mark, but couldn't keep our headers on frame. Predictably, they scored an equalizer from nothing, smashing a drive from the corner of the box that left our keeper looking on in despair.
Not a bad result, but it could have been better, particularly since the league looks to be our only shot a securing a Europa League spot unless we can somehow sneak past AGF in the cup quarterfinals. Which brings up the dilemma of the next week. We have Køge away in the league at the weekend. They've played 14, lost 14, so this should be three easy points. But three days later we have the cup quarters against our archrivals. Do I blow off the cup to guarantee the necessary three league points, or do I take a chance, play a weakened side against Køge, and really go for it against Aarhus? Given how much better Aarhus are than us, and that we'll be playing away, my initial inclination is to focus on the league...
Danish Premier - HB Køge 1:2 Randers
With those around us drawing this weekend before we kicked off, I was shoved off the fence on which of the upcoming matches to focus on. Fielding my best eleven who were fit, I started patiently against the league cellar-dwellers. On 13 minutes, we were ahead, Kelly Gray rising high on a corner kick to thunder a header home, his first goal for the club. On either side of the goal, Lorentzen spurned glorious opportunities after having been put through on goal by first Berg then Zhou.
Winless Køge started coming back into the match and equalized just after the half when our previously untested back line broke down completely and let their right winger dash onto a through ball in the box. At that point, caution went to the wind. I brought on Nygaard and Sane, recently recovered from injury, went 4-4-2 and attacked with gusto. We had chances, but were necessarily conceding them as well. Fortunately, there are reasons Køge are bottom, and their finishing is one of the biggest.
Sane proved my trust well founded on 82 minutes by hammering a rocket home from well outside the box. We then proceeded to stumble through the last 10 minutes or so, our keeper bobbling a couple of tame shots, defenders conceding stupid free kicks around the box, and generally wearing away my fingernails. The result pushes us into fourth, temporarily in the Europa Cup spots our probable upcoming failure in the cup will deny us, though the middle pack is quite tight.
Danish Cup - AGF 0:2 Randers
Best result of my time in charge and a massive surprise to boost. Having run out my best team on the weekend, I had to mix and match and start some guys who weren't at full fitness. I switched to a 4-2-2-2 formation with a midfield consisting of a deep lying central pair and wingers pushed high (My name for the formation? The Bradley Special, of course). We were countering from the off, keeping six back at most times and relying on the four up front to make chances. From the kickoff, we maintained possession for a full minute before setting up Movsisyan for a drive that was deflected wide. From the ensuing corner, center back Egholm powered one home to put us in the lead after just two minutes.
The next ten minutes were a siege as they came after us hard, Feilhaber pulling the strings for Aarhus from his holding midfield role and blasting shots from distance. But on 12 minutes, we broke. A clearance from central defense found Olsen wide on the right. He played a one-two with Nygaard and raced down the line, hitting a curling early cross as the Aarhus fullback closed in. With the keeper stuck to his line, Movsisyan, in the midst of something of a goal-drought, raced onto the ball as it cleared the center backs and headed home from just inside the six. Up 2-0 but with almost 80 minutes to play, I entertained a glimmer of hope but knew that our league-leading archrivals, in their house, would be a tough ask to keep out.
I had also gambled by starting backup keeper Coe in this game, but he came through with flying colors on the handful of occasions where he was called upon. There were some scares, but we put a few into them as well, finally shutting things down by going 4-1-3-2 and absolutely packing the middle of the park and man-marking Feilhaber out of the game. Perversely, leaving only two up top to attack rather than the previous four meant that we had the better chances in the late going, both fullbacks getting good crossing opportunities that we just couldn't finish.
Through to the semifinals where...we get screwed by the draw. We're currently 4th. The others we could face would be 10th-place Sønderjysk, 11th-place Nordsjælland, and 2nd-placed København. We get Københaven...of course. Our chances of pulling off a second huge upset in the cup are probably pretty slim. Too bad. Given that I think we could have taken the other two teams over two legs (that's how the semifinals are structured) and that København would have probably skunked the other, that would have pretty much wrapped up a Europa Cup place since København are going to qualify based on their league placing.
There are just three league games to go until the long winter break, but I think we'll end this post now with an international fixture week approaching. Casting an eye over the calendar, I see that Bob Bradley is bringing his boys to Denmark for a friendly, so I may have to finagle a seat for that one.