30 May 2020. Central Stadium, Mykolaiv. Goalkeeping coach Roman Chumak is in the stand, watching the final fixture of the league campaign. There are two relegation places to be decided and four teams in danger of the drop, of which MFC Mykolaiv are one. Mykolaiv are at home to Obolon-Brewer, who have secured a place in the promotion play-offs.
The home team, having taken the lead, are now 2-1 down.
Then, after 58 minutes, Mykolaiv score the kind of goal they have been conceding all season: a corner, a man (Ichuaidze) unmarked right in front of goal, the simplest of headers, 2-2.
‘Well,’ Chumak, who handles the press conferences, thinks, ‘I’ve now got two (equally untruthful) speeches in my head — the I-always-thought-we’d-stay-speech and the we’ll-be-back one — so it’s just a question of seeing which one will be required.
‘If it stays like this, it’s odds on it will be the latter.’
And then: nothing happens. Both sides create some chances, but nobody can be bothered to tuck the ball away.
The only way Mykolaiv can stay up now is if, miraculously, results elsewhere go our way.
When the final whistle blows, Chumak mentally rehearses his we’ll-be-back speech, desperately trying to figure out how to make it sound convincing.
But what’s this? David Carabott, the club’s Maltese Head of Youth who is seated next to Chumak, is pointing at his phone and saying, ‘I hope you’ve got a statement ready, along the lines of “Yes, well, we always believed we’d beat the drop”‘.
Both look out onto the pitch, where manager Grigor Pasha is looking like a man who has been reprieved from death row. Most of the 4,700 home fans have stayed; many are on the pitch; and all are chanting, ‘We are staying up!’
Odd how survival by the narrowest of margins is so much more uplifting than a safe, mid-table, finish.