New Livingston player Ibra Sekajja has been through the mill before as his team battled to stave off the threat of relegation.
The striker was just a raw teenager trying to find his way in the game when he was thrust from the Crystal Palace substitutes’ bench as the Selhurst Park club fought for a point that would preserve their English Championship status in April 2011. Trailing mid-table Hull City 1-0 at the KC Stadium with little more than three minutes remaining, Sekajja duly answered then manager Dougie Freedman’s call and, from a corner, got on the end of a cross to stab the ball into the net 30 seconds after coming on. Cue wild celebrations both on the pitch and back in the club’s home of south London.
Sekajja’s 88th-minute strike confirmed Palace were safe on the penultimate day of the 2010/2011 season, a result that consigned Preston North End, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe to League One football.
“We just needed a point from that game to stay in the Championship and I came on and got the goal,” the 22-year-old, who moved to London from Uganda when he was nine, recalls.
“Words can’t describe that day and it has been my best football moment of my career so far. It was just amazing.
“A lot of people have said to me about that goal, but I just look at it that I was doing my job.
“I was really fortunate to score on my debut. It was great for me and has been vital for my development as a player.”
Despite Sekajja’s heroics that day, the youngster was never afforded the opportunity to consolidate his position within the Palace squad and was subsequently loaned out to Kettering Town, Bromley, MK Dons and Barnet before his departure from Palace was confirmed last summer.
However, he left with no grievances towards a club he had been with since the age of 12.
“The managers there like Neil Warnock were always really helpful and spoke to the younger players on how to improve,” Sekajja said.
“I’ve learnt pretty much everything I know from them as a club. I was at Crystal Palace when I was 12 and was fortunate enough to make a few appearances in the Championship.”
Sekajja has arrived in West Lothian from Inverness having spent the last three months of his career in the Highland Capital. And although his stay up north proved to be short-lived, Sekajja believes he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said: “When I went to Inverness the club were doing really well and I never got that lucky break. It was a great experience, though, and John Hughes was great with me, but it was just an unfortunate situation.
“I’m a strong person and I’m not afraid to try new things and see what else is out there. I am delighted to be here at Livingston. It’s a fresh start so the main thing for me is to get games and try and help the club get back up the league. Livingston have got a great set-up, the lads and the gaffer have both been great.
“I was gutted last weekend’s match was off. I was buzzing to get involved but it’s the weather so you can’t do much about it.”
Sekajja, pictured below, has already found the net in a Lions shirt having scored in both the Development matches he has featured in, manager Mark Burchill hoping he has unearthed a talent that can produce at first-team level.
Despite the club’s problems both on and off the field, Sekajja has been impressed with what he’s seen so far at the Energy Assets Arena.
“I haven’t been aware of all the problems,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s what the manager wants for the club and the way it’s set up suits my style. With the gaffer being a striker himself, he’s someone I can look up to and help improve my game.
“I’ve looked at the previous results and they’ve been unlucky. I think once we get one or two wins it will get us going so I’ve no doubt we’ll be safe by the end of the season.
“I didn’t expect them [the Livi players] to be as good as they are if I am being honest!
“I also didn’t really know about the [Petrofac Training] cup final until just before I signed and I was like ‘wow’. I’m going to be doing everything I can to get myself into the starting team for that game.”