DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Conor O'Brien played the full game in central midfield for SønderjyskE on Monday, as they kept their Europa League hopes balanced on the edge of a knife with a draw against visiting Midtjylland.
A shocking 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Horsens the weekend before had ended a long unbeaten run in the league by SønderjyskE, and a second straight loss on Monday against the third-place team so deep into the home stretch would have left them with little to aspire towards in the final games of the season.
The team did start out brightly in taking the lead after 17 minutes, when a poor clearance off of a long pass left the ball directly at the foot of Lasse Vibe. The winter acquisition controlled it just outside the area and worked his way inwards, where he angled a low shot that went in just inside the left upright.
The remainder of the opening half was a relatively calm affair, which broke into a more open game after the intermission. The hosts felt they deserved a penalty call in the 62nd minute after Jesper Juelsgård looked to have upended Tommy Bechmann in the area, however the referee controversially chose instead to award the SønderjyskE player a yellow card for simulation.
The Wolves slowly took control over the final minutes, and caught the break they needed with 18 minutes on the clock. As Jakob Pousen ran into a pass on the right edge of the six-yard box, keeper Nathan Coe lunged for - and missed - the ball. While replays showed minimal, if any contact with the Midtjylland attacker, a spot kick was nevertheless awarded.
Poulsen elected to take the penalty himself, and struck an unreachable blast to the left side, directly inside the upright for the equalizer.
With three games left to go, SønderjyskE trail the league's last European qualification spot by six points, and will need an unlikely turn of events to reach fifth place.
The result was a positive one for another American in Denmark, as third-place Midtjylland are now nine points behind Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjaelland with a vastly inferior goal differential, making the Wild Tigers' qualification for the Champions League all but a mathematical certainty.
O'Brien and his teammates can do Nordsjaelland another favor in their next outing on Sunday, as they will host current league leaders Copenhagen, who sit just a single point ahead of Nordsjaelland.