Hidd sauntered to a comfortable 2-1 victory over Budaiya in their last match of the playoffs for promotion to the Nasser bin Hamad Premier League at the Bahrain National Stadium last night.
By remaining undefeated and winning two of their three matches in the four-team playoffs to determine which of the three teams would play in Bahrain’s main football competition next season, Hidd also topped the group with seven points.
Meanwhile, Sitra – who were relegated to the second division in the 2015-16 season – also won their last match 1-0 against Malkiya at the Khalifa Sport City stadium to tally five points and finish second on the table.
Budaiya, with four points, landed the third qualifying spot while Malkiya, Nasser bin Hamad Premier League champions in 2016-17 before being relegated in the 2020-21 season, will have to remain in the second division next year.
Victory was sweet for Hidd – two-time Premier League champions – who, along with Budaiya, had faced the embarrassing prospect of being relegated to the second division after finishing ninth, a spot below their opponents last night, in the top-flight league’s final 2021-22 standings.
They wasted no time getting on the scoreboard with their Brazilian centre-forward Everton Nascimento capitalising on a bad fumble, in just the third minute of the match, by the
Budaiya defenders to smash the ball past the diving goalkeeper.
With the pressure building on Budaiya as the Hidd forwards kept on testing their defence, it was only a matter of time before they cracked.
That moment duly arrived in the eighth minute of the game when a desperate attempt by a Budaiya player to deny Hidd another scoring opportunity resulted in a blatant foul. The resulting penalty was calmly netted by Syrian national team midfielder Ahmed Ashkar and, suddenly, Hidd were 2-0 up.
They continued their dominance for the rest of the first half, heading to the change room at half-time with Budaiya still two goals adrift.
But Budaiya appeared to be a changed side in the second half, motivated, no doubt, by a pep talk from their coach who had grown increasingly animated as the first half wound down.
Suddenly, they began putting pressure on the Hidd defence by retaining control of the ball for longer periods and making repeated forays into their opponent’s box. Rattled, Hidd appeared to lose sight of their own game plan as they focused more on trying to keep Budaiya out of their half than on trying to take the attack to them.
With the tables turned and pressure building on them, a Hidd defender was deemed to have committed a foul in the team’s box and a penalty kick was awarded to Budaiya in the 58th minute.
Budaiya midfielder Salman Ahmed stepped up to take the shot and coolly deposited it into the right side of the net.
The momentum appeared to have shifted in Budaiya’s favour now but Hidd were determined not to let their advantage slip and slowly eased back into their strategy of the first half: retaining ball control and maintaining their composure.
The ploy worked. Budaiya were now being forced on the defensive again and before long, the game had ticked into three minutes of injury time. Soon, it was over and small groups of supporters from both teams – who had created a cacophony of sound with their drums, loudspeakers and constant singing throughout the match – finally fell silent.