The NBI season finally reached its climax at the weekend with the final relegation and European places still to be decided going into Saturday’s fixtures.
First up on a packed fixture card was the days only dead rubber between mid-table Zalaegerszeg and league runners-up MOL Fehervar. With the shackles off and nothing but pride to play for, both sides played with an attacking freedom that made for an open and thoroughly enjoyable end-of-season match.
Fehervar struck first inside 5 minutes through Armin Hodzi and passed up several opportunities to extend their lead before the hosts found their feet and started created openings of their own; a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping, however, preventing ZTE from pulling level. With time running out and a home defeat looking likely, ZTE captain Benjamin Babati decided to take matters into his own hands scoring an outrageous, Xabi Alonso-esque goal from the halfway line to bring the teams level.
Moments after his goal of the season contender, Babati came close to winning the game for ZTE but saw his close-range header land the wrong side of the post. In truth, a draw was a fitting result in a game that neither side deserved to lose.
If goal-of-the-season contenders are not your thing then how about the drama of a relegation going down to the very last kick of the season?
Immediately following ZTE-Fehervar, was a relegation triple-header involving Ujpest at home to already relegated Kaposvar, Diosgyor versus Kisvarda, and Debrecen hosting Paksi.
In theory, all bar Kaposvar were playing for survival although most eyes were fixed on Debrecen where the hosts and 7 times NBI champions had to beat Paksi to have any chance of survival.
Ujpest made light work of their game, brushing aside Kaposvar by a 5-goal margin and had made sure of their NBI status for another year by half-time.
Over in rain-sodden Miskolc, Kisvarda had also but secured their NBI status by the interval as they led 2-0 and plunged their hosts deep into the relegation battle having previously looked safest from the drop at the start of the day.
However, the main drama of the early evening kick-offs was reserved for Debrecen where only a win for the hosts would save them from the drop. Visitors Paksi would survive with a draw or even a defeat if other results went their way.
Debrecen weighed down by the spectre of a relegation that seemed highly improbable at the start of the season, struggled to find their rhythm and fell behind to a goal from Konyves inside 20 minutes.
Deflated and downtrodden, Debrecen huffed and puffed throughout the game without causing too much cause for Paksi concern; Adenji, Szecsi, and captain Tozser playing in his final game before retiring all trying without success to save Debrecen’s season.
Then, with 15 minutes remaining Paksi keeper Racz blundered on the edge of his box gifting Trujic the opportunity to equalize and provide a lifeline for the hosts.
Galvanised by the goal and spurred on by the home crowd, Debrecen pressed for a late winner and twice came within inches of a goal that would have spared them the ignominy of relegation at Paksi’s expense.
First, in the 93rd minute, Szatmari saw his goal-bound effort headed off the line as Debrecen threw everything at a last gasp survival bid. Then, after the resultant corner had been cleared, Ferenczi smashed a 20-yard effort off the bar and watched agonizingly as the ball bounced off the goal line and Garba could only direct his header on the rebound wide off target.
The final whistle blew seconds later bringing an end to the game, the season, and Debrecen’s 27 years stay in the NBI. It also signalled a pitch invasion by several hundred angry Debrecen Ultra’s keen to confront their players. Thankfully the scene did not deteriorate into violence and was quickly under control, however, with the player’s safety in mind, neither team was permitted to leave the stadium for several hours after the end of the game.
With Debrecen’s relegation confirmed, the final aspect of the season to be finalized was who would take the remaining European position and join Champions Ferencvaros, league runners up MOL Fehervar, and Magyar Kupa winners Honved in representing Hungary in European competition next season.
Puskas Akademia held a one-point advantage going into the last round of matches having made the most of Mezokovesd’s dreadful form since the return to action. At home to Honved, Puskas rallied after losing the opening goal to record a 2-1 win and seal a first-ever place in Europe for next season.
Mezokovesd, on the other hand, saw their own European dream slip out of reach as they recorded just a solitary win in their 8 league games since the re-start and also lost the Cup final. A season that promised so much ultimately ended with a whimper for Attila Kuttor and his charges as they went down to a limp 1-0 defeat at Ferencvaros as the curtain fell on season 2019/20.
But, with ‘thanks’ to the current situation we don’t have to wait too long for next season to kick-off with the NBII set to start on 2nd August followed by the NBI two weeks later. It will be a short summer break, so best get your rest in now before the drama starts again in August.
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