Slowly, but surely, Legon Cities have crawled their way out of trouble at the foot of the Ghana Premier League table and can now aspire to something a little bigger than survival.
It wasn’t too long ago, remember, that football fans — and not just Cities’ — were left scratching their heads about how the club’s grand entry into the Premier League had so quickly turned into a nightmare, with the team out of sorts and unable to find a consistent run of results that would justify the ostentatious display which suggested they’d be a force to reckon with this season.
In some quarters, in fact, Cities were already written off, after they failed to win any of their first seven games, and checked off as yet another illustration of how not all that glitters is truly golden.
The Royals were quite radiant off the pitch — a lot of work and money, clearly, went into pimping up the image of the club formerly known as Wa All Stars, as well as beefing up the roster with some big names — but, on it, there was very little regal about them.
It all seemed overwhelming, even for one of the best trainers in the Ghanaian top-flight’s modern history, drafted in to stem the tide.
Bashir Hayford, following Cities’ initial failed project (led by dismissed Serbian Goran Barjaktarevic), took the head coach’s job with lots of confidence, that quality he has always had in spades.
Hayford, though, had little experience as a firefighter. He is a winner, with two league titles in the bag, and it didn’t take too long for Hayford to realise this wasn’t his usual cup of tea.
Cities’ problems were, primarily, about a difficulty to score which, given that goals are the currency of football, rendered an apparently wealthy club ‘broke’ — quite ironic, eh?
Those struggles persisted awhile, but Cities gradually worked their way through the gloom, dragging themselves off the path to seemingly imminent doom.
Ultimately, that had been down to sheer graft, not glamour, elevating Cities from the nether regions of the league table onto steadier ground. They’ve really had to do it the hard way, and under the most trying circumstances.
Cities’ pre-season spending — including the marquee signing of Ghana legend Asamoah Gyan — has failed to pay off, while injury has also dimmed the lights of long-time Hayford protégé Hans Kwofie, recruited in mid-season to pump some goals into a limp campaign.
Given the challenges upfront (their tally of 29 goals is bettered by all eight sides above them on the table, and four of the nine beneath), Hayford focused on strengthening at the back, but even that hasn’t gone exactly according to plan.
Fitness issues have knocked all three starting goalkeepers out of action, for varying spells, the latest being Sylvester Sackey’s exit in Monday night’s victory over Inter Allies.
But Hayford’s brilliance has shone through, producing a defensive record that is only worse than those of title contenders Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
The cumulative effect is that Cities, with six games to go, are no longer at a real risk of being sucked back into the relegation vortex — of that Hayford seems rather confident.
“Even when we were at the 13th position, we knew we were not going [to relegation],” he bragged after the Allies game.
It’s certainly too late for Cities to seriously fancy a shout in the title race — they can still have a say in it, at least, with a game to come against leaders Hearts — but a top-half finish would suffice, as few would even have imagined such a possibility during the first few weeks of the season.
Should the current momentum — only Hearts have picked up more points in the last 10 games — be maintained in the home straight, Hayford would have laid a solid platform, ahead of next season, for Cities to reach the loftier targets set by their owners.