Another match had just ended, this time a hard fought 1-0 defeat to Akwa United on Match Day 35 of 2014 Glo Nigeria Premier League, NPL, and a downcast Salomon Junior made his way towards the press crew.
Time was running out on Bayelsa United in their bid to beat the drop but as the inevitable question was thrown at the captain, his response was quick in coming.
“Yea, sure we will beat the drop. I’m sure we have three matches left. We will try to win our two home matches and then go to Heartland and try to pick a point. Sure sure sure, I’m sure that at the end of the League Season, we will not go down”, Salome told lmc-ng.com.
That defeat had thrown Bayelsa United into the last relegation spot, while Gombe United and FC Taraba who were all around the drop zones looked safe. But those words had much more than faith or belief, they oozed conviction from a man who was battle ready. As he predicted, they won their next two games against Dolphins and Lobi Stars but the job was not done yet.
Fast forward to Sunday, November 16 at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri and the final day. Bayelsa United were one point above Gombe United who had the luxury of a final day home game against Abia Warriors. Bayelsa are in Owerri to attempt a feat that no other side had been able to do this season- beat Heartland at home. Being quizzed of how he felt in the preceding days as they hoped to beat the drop Salomon says, he was never perturbed.
“I meant every word I said that day in Uyo because I had the belief we will win our remaining matches. I did not have any nightmares, I was just confident in the team and the coaching staff, so I was sure we were going to beat the drop. Getting relegated would have been disaster for the entire team, it was unthinkable”, reflected the player.
The game against Heartland couldn’t have started in a worse fashion for them as Heartland went ahead in the first half. Going into the break with scores still at 1-0, they knew that their whole season rested on the next 45 minutes and they knew even a draw would not be enough. The Captain said, there were words in the dressing room.
“The coach asked us to be calm and to continue playing our game. As for me, I told the players that we needed to raise our game. I reminded them that this was the most important game of our season and we could not afford to lose or even draw the game. And that worked”.
But then looking back at the season, how in the world did Bayelsa United find itself in a relegation battle? The Benin Republic citizen explains.
“It was due to the financial problems we had and the problem we had with our venue. Our fans could not come and watch us play weekly. That affected us. I have to give kudos to the manager. He really helped us and not only him his assistants alos were all of help to the team they all contributed to our survival”.
Having learnt the lessons of a truly challenging season, the 28 year old has began talking yet again, this time for the coming season.
“Our expectation for next season is to win the league or get a continental ticket. We will achieve that by strengthening the team with good players and then we start the season well. Yes, I know It won’t be easy but we are capable of doing that”.
Surely an uphill task by all standards but dismissing his words with the wave of the hand? You will be doing that at your own peril.
-Culled: LMC Website; lmc-ng.org.