IF Elfsborg finally looked like meeting expectations and "jogging" to the Allsvenskan title in June but, with four games to go, their eight-point cushion has been deflated two.
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Ahead of the 2009 Allsvenskan campaign Mikael Stahre, then AIK Solna coach, predicted "Elfsborg will jog to the title". IF Elfsborg did not win that year and have not done so since, but Stahre's forecast is repeated by many at the start of each season.
"That's mostly a case of other clubs wanting to steer pressure away from themselves," Elfsborg coach Jörgen Lennartsson told UEFA.com. In his first year in charge of the perennial contenders, the former Sweden Under-21 coach is nevertheless closing in on the Boras side's first league championship since 2006.
With four rounds left, Lennartsson's charges lead the First Division table on 52 points ahead of BK Häcken (50), Malmö FF (49) and AIK (47), though they needed Sunday's added-time winner by Oscar Hiljemark at rock-bottom GAIS Göteborg. Elfsborg are being put to the test much more now than during the first half of the campaign, when it looked like they would indeed "jog to the title".
"We won seven straight matches before the summer. We were unbelievably solid in defence and didn't need many chances of our own to score," said Lennartsson, whose team were eight points clear when the Allsvenskan paused for UEFA EURO 2012. Since the restart that gap has closed to two, not that Lennartsson is unduly stressed. "There's been talk of the title from the fifth round on, but we haven't won anything yet. We have nothing to lose either."
Lennartsson was an assistant at Helsingborgs IF in 2000 when they finished runners-up, yet this is his first experience in the thick of a championship race as head coach. Many of his players are more familiar with the situation. Under Magnus Haglund, Elfsborg ended among the top four for six straight seasons, beginning with the Allsvenskan title in 2006. The likes of Anders Svensson, Stefan Ishizaki and Lasse Nilsson are still going strong today.
If Elfsborg still have everything in their hands, three clubs – with free-scoring Häcken leading the chase – have not given up yet. "Häcken have a tremendous attacking artillery, Malmö have been up there fighting all year and AIK have the power to wear down opponents," said Lennartsson. "It's going to be a very tight title race and probably won't be decided until the final day."