Inter Turku secured their first Veikkausliiga championship on an exciting final day of the season. Inter needed a victory against FF Jaro at home to secure the title as challengers FC Honka travelled to Maarianhamina still hoping of grabbing the trophy. Inter, undoubtedly the best team this season, duly delivered with a 2-0 victory to the delight of a packed Veritas Stadium on the stormy and soaked Sunday evening.
It seems that Honka finally paid the price for their Uefa Cup adventure as their good form came to an end in the last matches. Nevertheless, they have every reason to be proud of their achievement. The first top three finish and another season of European football next year. With a developing squad with lots of potential young players and the best Finnish coach in Mika Lehkosuo, the future looks rosy for the team in yellow and black.
Despite the fact that HJK secured a Uefa Cup spot for next season, as Honka defeated FC Haka in the other Finnish Cup semi-final on Thursday, things are looking gloomy for the most successful club in Finland. It will be a mouth-watering climax to the season as these two teams clash in the Cup final on Saturday. However, whatever the result, it won’t erase the fact that this has been another terrible season marked by inconsistency and big match failures for HJK.
The HJK-Lahti match summed up HJK’s season quite perfectly. With a draw they would have been third that would have entitled them European football next season, without needing the help from Honka. The match turned out to be perhaps their worst of the whole season and at the most crucial time. For a team of HJK’s stature and quality it seems unbelievable that since topping the table on the 1st of September, after victories against Inter and Tampere Utd, they have lost four of their last seven matches, including consecutive defeats against RoPS and FF Jaro. When it seemed that finally they had their grip on the title, they let it not only slip but crash to the ground. And you don’t need to look too far for the reason for such and epic failure.
On Sunday, as the match neared the end, the frustrated HJK supporters shouted in disbelief and utter frustration at their petrified coach pleading him to do something. It took Muurinen eighty-three minutes to rise from his seat only to lean against the dugout wall and look on with a clueless frown on his face how his team was outplayed by FC Lahti at their home ground. Muurinen’s cluelessness was manifest in his reactions to the Litmanen-inspired Lahti domination in the second half. He did exactly the same substitutions which he has done in pretty much every single game this season. Changes made regardless whether they are winning or loosing. He substituted one wide midfielder and the other striker. The only thing out of routine on Sunday was that he didn’t take off the other wide player as well. Though, to this there is a simple reason; Petri Oravainen was out injured. Apart from these substitutions, Muurinen made no tactical changes to speak of. He didn’t attempt to raise his squad’s waning moral. He didn’t shout instructions. He didn’t rage. He didn’t even resort to the usual final act of desperation when all other ideas have failed of throwing the tallest player on the pitch to lumber around as an attacker and start booting long balls towards his forehead. He showed no signs of passion or determination to win. He didn’t even get wet although it was pouring buckets of water throughout the ninety minutes. He, simply and emphatically, did not do a single thing. It’s as if he was (and has been for the whole season) playing the Football Manager and doing a bad job even at that. His performance signified total submission of a coach who has lost his ability to make any impact on his players.
As the match progressed, frustration and lack of discipline was increasingly showing from the HJK players. They argued with each other, were unorganised and uninventive. And when the only real chance that they had came, on the 85th minute, it was fitting that it fell to Erfan Zeneli. Zeneli, a player with excellent technical abilities but gaping deficiencies as a footballer, arrived inside the box on time only to tap the ball awkwardly over the bar. He still does all the wrong things at the wrong time and showcases his naivety far too often. With such clear weaknesses in his basic game it’s a wonder that nothing’s been done to cancel them. Then again, when you come to think of it, it’s only a sign of Muurinen’s consistency since it seems nothing’s been done to develop the whole team’s game plan either. Their game has shown little, if any, signs of improvement since the beginning of the season. When Muurinen’s strategy works, as it did against Tampere Utd in mid-May, the result can be an astonishing 5-1 victory. However, when plan A fails there simply is no plan B. Muurinen’s one dimensional tactics and his abilities as a coach, which were found out brutally on the international stage during his last years as the coach of the Finnish national team, seem now not to be enough even in the relatively low demands of the Veikkausliiga. What could this HJK team, or Erfan Zeneli for that matter, have achieved this season in the hands of Job Dragtsma, Mika Lehkosuo or even the shrewd Ilkka Mäkelä who has taken a mediocre Lahti side to a whole new level in just one season after the lukewarm time they had with Muurinen?