TPS and Honka received the plaudits last week, leaving utter destruction in their wake wherever they went. ‘Tepsi’ hammered KuPS 3-0 at home and raided RoPS 4-0 away. Honka weren’t much worse during their ‘difficult’ road-trip: coming away with the points from a 5-3 scoring rehearsal at FF Jaro and then going on to crush KuPS 4-0 (Jami Puustinen scoring back-to-back hat-tricks! Well, I never!). HJK, meanwhile, might be unable to compete in the sympathy race against their more entertaining pursuers but ‘Klubi’, nevertheless, continued their less pronounced but effective stride towards the title by also recording two victories: 2-1 away to TamU in mid-week and 1-0 against MyPa (home) at the weekend.
Even if HJK didn’t exactly set the world on fire with their performance on Sunday, they made their life a bit more difficult than was necessary. HJK should have easily scored three or four but, in stead, consistently kept missing chances. Jarno Parikka was the main culprit for HJK’s profligacy as he blundered opportunities by the bucketful. Having already had a decent effort parried by the MyPa keeper Antti Kuismala early on, Parikka squandered a simple tap-in on the rebound to Juho Mäkelä’s shot on the half-hour mark. In the second half, the night turned even darker for the 23-year-old HJK trainee as he missed a complete sitter that would have put the match beyond doubt. Parikka had all the time in the world to put the ball in the back of the net after Kuismala had let Mäkelä’s weak shot slip from his lap, but all Parikka could do with his hasty effort was to force the keeper to a save. This cruelly became the striker’s last effort on the pitch as he was substituted just minutes after the miss.
Although HJK were clearly the better side on Sunday, MyPa also had their moments. HJK have the tendency to start matches a bit cautiously and the visitors weren’t shy to take advantage of the home side’s hospitality. MyPa had four corners during the first eight minutes but were unable to make them count. It didn’t take long for HJK to respond as they took the lead with Mäkelä’s fabulous strike on the 10th minute. Mäkelä raced on to Mikko Hauhia’s long ball, cut inside the box and hit a perfect shot in the far top corner from a tight angle. In a match that was defined by wretched finishing, the world-class strike from ‘Super-Mäksä’ was enough for HJK to claim all three points. Much to the relief of one particular HJK attacker.
2009 was supposed to be Parikka’s big year. And it could not have started any better as he made his full international début during pre-season against Japan. After this, things haven’t really gone according to plan though. The season has been extremely difficult and frustrating for Parikka in two respects. He has been highly disappointing in Veikkausliiga and his appearance in the U21 European Championships was far from memorable, being limited to an unremarkable 45 minute showing in the opening fixture against England. At HJK Parikka has been the third choice striker for years. He has been waiting for his chance patiently and the opportunity finally arrived this season. Antti Muurinen, the HJK coach, has given Parikka a proper chance to make himself the number one attacker but Parikka has failed to seize it. He has played well, but never spectacularly, and what matters most, he has been shooting blanks all season. Three goals in twenty-two matches is a miserable total for a striker who is playing in a top team in Veikkausliiga. Overall, HJK have netted forty-three goals (third best in the league) which means that Parikka has scored 14,3 percent of the total. Not really the strike rate of the first choice front man.
The MyPa match was basically Parikka’s season inside seventy minutes. He was decent in his role as the interlinking player, earning a few free-kicks, coming for the ball often and keeping possession successfully. As usual, Parikka was lively and useful throughout but the only thing that he probably took home on Sunday was the knowledge that, once again, he failed to score despite having no shortage of opportunities. Parikka should not lose heart though. In stead, he should take encouragement from his strike partner’s shape up. Mäkelä has scored four goals in the last four matches (doubling his season tally) and is the single most important reason behind HJK’s good autumn form. Also, unlike Mäkelä who lives by his goals, Parikka’s other qualities make him an important part of the team even when he is not scoring. Parikka hasn’t lost his talent, just his confidence during a difficult season.
Parikka isn’t the only one who has had a hard time this year and the HJK striker has had the comfort of getting the backing of the HJK fans despite a below-par season. In contrast, to Muurinen no such luxuries have been given as criticism has been hurled at him from all directions. At most times, the criticism has been justified but now it seems ‘Mursu’ might have the last laugh after all. Finally in the last stages of the season, Muurinen seems to have found a formula for success, which reads something like this:
1.Keep it simple and tight at the back (their straw house of a defence having been reconstructed into a fortress after Mathias Lindström’s transfer).
2.Forget aesthetics, use straightforward attacking tactics (meaning, either play the ball to the feet of the wingers, if they are in deep positions, or play direct balls behind the defence for the front two to chase after; defensively speaking this translates: don’t lose the ball in dangerous areas).
3.Rely on the wingers and the re-kindled Juho Mäkelä to provide the spoils
Has the apostle of ‘attacking football’ found the pragmatist in him?
HJK’s approach might not be innovative. It might not be pretty. But if it is the means to an end to remove their six year title clot, even the anti-Muurinen contingent at the Finnair Stadium probably won’t mind. Whatever will happen after the season on the coaching front, will happen. The title is all that matters now.
And it remains a possibility that HJK will get to lift the trophy already in Turku next Sunday. However, it does seem unlikely that TPS would drop points in Myllykoski and, therefore, a point from Inter for HJK would go a long way. In the last round, HJK host FF Jaro and TPS travel to Espoo so it should be a mouth-watering final day. Let’s hope the climax will be delayed until the 17th of October.