Maybe one day TPS will come to Tampere and try to play football. They’ve tried the hump it, lump it, boot the opposition method enough times to know by now that it doesn’t work, but against TamU today it was fouling, hoofing and kicking again. In 2007 there was a red card for a player on each team, a great atmosphere and a home win, and that’s how it turned out this time. On a rainy, slushy day in Pirkkala – where they have a great pitch and a friendly, football-loving council, unlike Tampere – Tepsi showed why they will have to adjust their central midfield if they are to improve this season.
They should be able to play a nice passing game, with players like Rähmönen, Manninen, Ääritalo, the Riski brothers and Hämäläinen. Unfortunately, only the last named started today, and they began with a crude approach, overly reliant on Simo Valakari’s ability to intimidate referees and help his team avoid punishment. Three weeks ago Riku Riski ran their midfield against RoPS, they played some wonderful, flowing, attacking football, and went in 2-0 up at half time.
Then they pushed Riski forward and put Chris Cleaver and Simo Valakari into central midfield, and the match turned into a waiting game for the TPS veteran’s first yellow card as he hooked, tripped and shoved RoPS players while yelling at the referee. He got away with some horrible challenges that night, avoided a booking, and TPS stopped really playing without Riski’s movement, vision and prompting, which he was unable to provide from his advanced position.
So why Pasi Rautiainen started this League Cup semi final with the Cleaver-Valakari combination is a mystery. Maybe they really believe they are not good enough to play a passing, positive game. Maybe it’s an inferiority complex about Tampere United, given their appalling record both in Tampere and at home against Ari Hjelm’s team. Maybe Valakari has a ‘must play’ clause in his contract, being their marquee player and all.
Whatever the reason for the tactics on show in Pirkkala, they failed today and must be questioned ahead of the Veikkausliiga season. Hämäläinen and Riku Riski were inventive, created chances, and the latter scored after he came on for the second half. Hämäläinen beat his man several times in the first half and set up chances, including one open goal that Mikko Paatelainen hilariously kicked out of play for a throw-in. Valakari’s contributions were fouls and long balls, and thankfully the referee punished the fouls often enough to ensure that the former Dallas Burn man received his second yellow card in the 82nd minute.
TamU looked very comfortable through most of the game. They weathered the early long-ball storm, withstood the heavy challenges, and after 25 minutes began to play with a purpose TPS never matched. Savolainen and Ojanpera were playing as defensive midfielders, and did a sound enough job. Savolainen did not quite look like his old self, but he has not played much football in the last year and he will find his match fitness with a couple more games. He played pretty well today, broke forward when the opportunity arose and broke up TPS posession effectively, but there were one or two occasions when he seemed to be outmuscled, and I cannot remember that happening in 2007.
In front of the water-carriers was an attacking trio of Pohja, Niemi and Scheweleff, behind the lone striker Aleksei Kangaskolkka. Niemi was the pick of these players, scoring two brilliant goals and confounding TPS with his movement, while Kangaskolkka was the stupidest, if not the worst. He received two yellow cards for dissent (not sure if the second was officially for kicking the ball away, but it was an extremely petulant repeated welly into the net after he’d been flagged offside, so I’ll count it as dissent), but could have scored a couple of times. He gave the defence a lot to think about, and his development under the stern, cajoling and ultimately successful Ari Hjelm is going to be fascinating to watch.
Niemi’s two goals were wonderful. The first came from a Pohja free-kick (won after yet another Valakari assault) curled into the box and flicked past Lehtovaara. It was a classy header, hopefully an indication that Niemi is back after an injury ravaged 2008. His second was even better, beating two men before curling it into the top corner with his left foot.
Riski pulled one back late on to give the TPS fans a glimmer of hope and ensure the last few minutes were tense, but TamU are an experienced team now and they closed the game out well. The atmosphere was loud and raucous, befitting the game, and there were good turnouts from Sinikaarti and the TPS fans.
There was some childish pseudo-hooliganism from the TPS end, with a couple of them walking aggressively yet slowly towards the TamU fans after the first goal. Of course, the stewards stopped them when they noticed after 2-3 minutes (Usain Bolt is most assuredly not part of the Tepsi ‘crew’), but they finally got to the Sinikaarti section a few minutes after the game. Naturally, most people had left by then but the Turkulaiset found someone to fight with, and most importantly of all some stewards to hide behind when the Sinikaarti people ran back into the ground.
If they really want to fight they can surely do this outside stadia. Pirkkala is not a heavily policed town, and arranging a ruck would be very, very easy if they actually wanted to risk getting hit, but instead they decided they wanted some stewards to hide behind. It’s important that they and maybe also their club are heavily punished, so that this kind of shit stays outside grounds and cowards don’t have yellow-jacketed mums to protect them. There are enough difficulties for Finnish clubs without adding extra stewarding and segregation costs. Better to nip the idiocy in the bud now.