Tuesday, 24 February 2015

GPL Match Day 8 Blog: B.A United struggling to compete at the top

Olympics fans look on as their side romp to a comfortable home win against BA United 

ACCRA----- In the parking lot just behind the VIP Stands of the Accra Sports Stadium, BA United’s Nana Egyir was greeting his friends and fans who had made it to the game to see him play. The experienced defender, affectionately called ‘Rambo’, didn’t look particularly inspiring. His eyes told the story of a player drained and frustrated. “This has happened all season; we play all the football but end up losing all drawing, that has been our story,” the former Heart of Lions captain told me, shaking his head.

B.A United, back in Ghana’s top flight after close to a decade out, are finding life at the top very hard to cope with. It has been a forgettable journey thus far and the effects are visible. Sunday’s game saw them beaten by three goals to one against fellow newly promoted side Great Olympics.  Inspired by their beastly defender Godfred Asante (who rocketed in a ferocious free kick) and stylish play maker Francis Attuquaye Okai (who scored a brace), Olympics proved too much for Egyir’s side. The only bright spot from the game for the ‘Apostles of Ghana Soccer’ was their consolation goal, a penalty coolly converted by Egyir himself in the 67th minute.

B.A weren't that bad all game – they started poorly, looking increasingly amateurish for most parts in the first half and early in the second, but their creativity popped up late into the second half. The only problem was that they lacked the imagination and coordination in the final third to make all the skillful passing and energetic running from the likes of Charles Oppong, Charles Manu and Enoch Gyimah count.

Defensively, though – and as the score line suggested – B.A were very poor. “You can’t defend like that in the Premier League and try to even get a draw,” their coach, Frimpong Manso, admitted. Manso looked even more crest-fallen than Egyir. The coach – a former Ghana national team star in the early 90s – had his head almost bowed throughout the post-match press conference. It was hard not to notice his pain, hard not to feel sympathetically drawn into his predicament. Since a morale boosting 1-0 derby win over Bechem United in their opening fixture, his side have only won once in their last seven games, losing all but one of the rest. They now sit rock bottom on the league log, with a meagre seven points from a possible 24.

L-R: B.A United Goalie cum captain Lawrence Osei and coach Frimpong Manso

People at the club have many theories as to what has been responsible for the slump, but Coach Manso believes two main factors have hindered their desire to get their season back on track. The first he reckons, is their inability to put away the chances they create. “That has been a big problem,” he complained. The second, which is closely related to the first, is so glaring that Manso need not have mentioned it: the crippling inexperience in the squad. “Most of the current players are those who qualified us for the Premier League from Division 1 (second tier) and so have no top flight experience,” he said. “We haven’t been able to beef up the squad with much experienced legs to guide us. If you looked at our squad Nana Egyir is the only seasoned player but the rest are all inexperienced ones who are finding it hard to cope at this level.”

B.A need experienced players to fix things, but at this stage of the season when registration is closed, they will have to turn things around the hard way. They now face a herculean test of their character, as they have to dig deep into their beings to unearth an ability to achieve against the odds. “We need to do something quickly or else things will get very difficult for us going forward,” Manso said matter-of-factly. “We really need to work beyond ourselves to improve as that is our only option now. We need to work extra extra hard to be able to survive.”

Their affable goalkeeper Lawrence Osei, who also happens to be the captain of the team, agreed. “It’s all up to us, the players in camp now. We need to train hard raise our game up and play according to what coach tells us because we can’t sign any more players at this point,” he said. “We have more games upcoming. We need to defend well and play well up front.”

They have their destiny in their own hands.


--Sitting just above B.A United at the bottom are...

…Hearts of Oak.

Strangely, the Phobians failed to draw inspiration from two consecutive wins in two competitions (1-0 CAF Confederations Cup first round win over AS Police and another 1-0 win over Istanbul FC in the Elite Cup). Now, they find themselves with eight points from a possible 24, recording only two wins. Herbert Addo’s reign so far has been steeped in mixed fortunes and emotions and it remains largely unclear what really is going on, but you get the sense that the dissatisfaction will spill over soon.

--Yakubu Mohammed knows how to score, doesn’t he? Proper striker, him. A hat trick on Sunday against New Edubiase in the Adansi Derby has taken his tally to five, joining what has suddenly become a crowd atop the goal king chart: the likes of Chelsea duo Kofi Owusu and Stephen Baffour, Bechem's Noah Martey and Hearts' Gilbert Fiamenyo - who has now gone four games without scoring following his famous January exploits (that saw him score five times in his first three games).

---AshGold are also still on top of the table and have won all but one of their games. Everyone keeps referring to them as traditional chokers who will bottle it eventually, but it remains to be seen.

-- Asante Kotoko’s loss at Ashanti Gold before the league’s short break saw the club ushering in the expected storm. Management eventually gave in to the prevailing panic around the club. Coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani was essentially forced to go on his accumulated leave - a conspicuous bid to get rid of him amid fan agitation – with a new hunt for a successor being instigated while Didi’s still technically under contract. Sunday’s 0-0 draw against the exciting WAFA meant the Porcupine Warriors have gone four consecutive league games without a win, a run of form that has seen them slump to 12th place on the log.

---Who would've thought? Great Olympics are now out of the relegation zone following their win over B.A United. That’s two wins in their last three games. “This is the start of good things to come for us,” coach Kassim Mingle said. Cliché, but you can’t help but admire how their hard work is beginning to pay off.

---After going unbeaten in their first three games, Wa All Stars have bizarrely gone on to lose four of their last five games and have now dropped to the relegation zone. Something really bad must have hit them.



Hasaacas 2-1 Inter Allies [Kojo Poku, Tenneson Opoku : Eliasu Fusseini]


Asante Kotoko 0-0 WAFA

Heart of Lions 1-0 Hearts of Oak [Osman Muntaka]

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Bereku Chelsea [Kennedy Ashia]

New Edubiase United 2-3 Ashanti Gold [Fusseini Nuhu 2x : Yakubu Mohammed 3x]

Great Olympics 3-1 B.A United [Godfred Asante, Francis Attuquaye Okai 2x : Nana Egyir]

Bechem United 2-1 Medeama SC [Ernest Baffoe, Noah Martey : Nathaniel Asamoah]

Aduana Stars 1-0 Wa All Stars [Daniel Darkwa]

Thursday, 12 February 2015

GPL Match Day 7 Blog: Nuhu brothers inspire Edubiase to unlikely win

The Nuhu brothers: Fusseini and Alhassan. Can you tell the difference? Well, that is Alhassan on the right with the thumbs up (I could only tell given his shirt number 4 on his shorts! haha)

ACCRA--- It was not until 30 minutes into the game that New Edubiase started smelling a possible upset. They had started the game not really knowing what to expect from a Hearts team that had been largely underwhelming all season, but then had turned up in Kumasi to beat Kotoko last week. There was a sense that they had arrived in Accra at the wrong time, just off the back of Hearts’ confidence boosting win over their arch rivals. 'Surely, Hearts will be on fire, all guns blazing. Let’s sit back and defend and try and limit the damage. It’s going to be a long day,' they must've thought.

It didn’t quite happen like that. Hearts turned up looking like they weren’t the same team that took over Kumasi last week. They had relapsed back to the familiar lack of creative spark. “I was very very sad,” Hearts coach Addo remarked. “The way I expected the boys to react and and behave in the first half, I did not get it. We did everything for them not to be lethargic too but they just did not play today.”

Edubiase were smart and alert enough to respond. They started noticing that Hearts were looking woefully ordinary, that they needed to snap out of their inferiority complex and go for the kill. You sensed it in their sudden burst of confidence, initiating wave after wave of attack, taking the game to the Phobians. Their reading of the game was spot on too. When they stepped it up a notch, Hearts could not cope. Within two minutes, Edubiase’s twin duo of Alhassan Nuhu (42nd) and Fusseini Nuhu (45th) had put the Bekwai-based club two up at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Hearts would pull one back on 83 minutes, a result of what was a desperate, hard work-laden attempt to salvage something from the game. Shaun Mason October, their South African left full back whose performances over the last two games had earned rave reviews, saw his cross from the left deflected into the Edubiase goal. In the end, Edubiase got the victory they hadn’t expected – their first away league win in over a year, spanning nine previous unsuccessful trips.

October’s goal was a rare highlight in what was his toughest game in Ghana yet. Alhassan Nuhu’s tireless pace and trickery kept the young man busy and sweating all game, exposing a nervous side to him not seen yet given his incredible composure through previous displays. Right down the middle, the other Nuhu  - Fusseini - was also proving to be a thorn in the flesh of Hearts’ central defensive duo of Philip Boampong and captain Robin Gnagne. Edubiase were giving Hearts serious migraines, with the terrifying twins at the heart of it all, their brilliance worsening the throbbing with each attack.

It was the second consecutive game in which the 25 year old brothers had scored in the same game. “We did it last week [against Wa All Stars] and this week we’ve done it again,” a beaming Alhassan Nuhu, who is the vice captain of the club, told the post match conference. “I’m very happy my brother and I scored for our team to win such a big game because Hearts is not a small team.”

The brothers, who joined New Edubiase from Tema Real Sportive six years ago, have since gone on to become cult heroes at the club. Both original forwards, Alhassan is the more versatile one of the duo, as he has played and excelled across the midfield. Against Hearts, he totally owned the right wing, bringing the game to life each time he had the ball. His goal saw him dash inside from his wing to pick up a pass from the marauding captain Nasir Lamin. Holding off a Hearts defender, he curled the ball in with his weaker left foot from just outside the penalty box, the ball going in off the post.

Fusseini, though, is the more physical one who loves to play on the shoulders of defenders. His clever movement meant he got in behind the Hearts defense on countless occasions. His goal was a typical poachers’ finish. He got on the end of a well-weighted through pass during a counter attack, instinctively following  the ball via a howler from the visibly nervous Hearts goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakil (coach Addo described this as a “Christmas gift.”). His aggressive perseverance meant he found himself with the ball at his feet and with the Hearts goal yawning, the goalkeeper and his defenders sprawled out on the ground behind him. His composure to look behind him, slow down and casually pass the ball into the net was quite the sight.

Post match presser. L-R Hearts reserve Goalie Abdoulaye Soulama, Hearts coach Herbert Addo, Edubiase's Alhassan Nuhu and their coach Anthony Commey

Hearts coach Herbert Addo was full of praise for them. “I first met them when I picked them in 2010 during my time as local Black Stars coach. At that time they were very fast and aggressive but they lacked experienced. Now they are more experienced and importantly, still fast and aggressive,” he said, proudly patting the back of Alhassan who was seated by him at the presser. “It’s interesting because before the game, I told them good luck; which was unfortunate bcause they went on to score against me!”

Alhassan – undoubtedly the man of the match – was unassuming in his response to a question that sought to know whether he performed so well because Black Stars coach Avram Grant had been monitoring the game as a specatator from the VVIP area. “I came here to play my heart out not because of Grant. I came here to play the very same football I love and know. I love to play and I always want to improve. And you know, it’s not that easy to get into the Black Stars. No it’s not,” – he was smiling, shaking his head, his voice drowning – “…no, it’s not, at all. Ei, it’s not.”

The win was Edubiase’s first over Hearts in four meetings, also being the first time they’ve beaten the Phobians away from home in six years. After going winless in their first three games this season, things look good all of a sudden, with three wins in their last four matches, two of them coming on the bounce. They are now 9th on the log, just a point off the top four and three behind second placed Aduana Stars. Their long serving coach Anthony Commey – a colleague of mine calls him “Edubiase Mugabe” because there are hilarious tales of him refusing to leave even when served with sack letters – looked very satisfied.

“Our season didn’t start easy,” the coach, who has been in charge of them since their Premier League debut in the 09/10 season, said. Commey was the mastermind behind the cub’s greatest ever achievement – their FA Cup win three years ago occurring after a memorable win over rivals Ashanti Gold in an Adansi Derby final. “We hope to build on this win to climb up the table. We just want to do better and get into the top four.”

“Maybe,” he added, shrugging. “We can take the FA Cup (again) too.”


---Ashanti Gold are now six points clear at the top, after coming from behind to beat struggling Kotoko 2-1 at home. Striker Bernard Morrison – who scored the winner, a goal many who were at the game highly praised – says they want to maintain this gap and go all the way. With hopes of his club’s first title in 19 years, the marksman, who is now on four goals, might be getting ahead of himself given how early it is, but you can’t begrudge him. AshGold are in some form and it would take a lot to stop them.

---Asante Kotoko, the latest victims of AshGold’s early season fire, are in a huge mess of their own. After last Saturday’s home loss to Hearts, another loss – though in a difficult away game – is the last thing they needed. Last season, they had lost their match day seven fixture too (a 1-0 loss away in Bechem) but the big difference here is that they had won their previous six consecutive games from the beginning of the season, whereas they’ve only won twice this term. The pressure is building on coach Ms-Ud Didi Dramani, and it did not help that he claimed “Anyone who understands football knows my job is not under threat”.

---Look who suddenly popped up up in the goal king race? Sheriff Mohammed bagged another brace in Inter Allies’ 2-0 win over highly rated Aduana and is on four goals. This is a bit weird, but I somehow (and this was unplanned) met him just before the game at their team hotel. My senior colleague Fred Gyan Mantey, who works with Inter Allies, was teasing him that his brace the other day against Edubiase had been a fluke. He laughed and said he’d prove him wrong. A few hours later, bang!

--Top scorer Gilbert Fiamenyo (five goals) has failed to score in his last three games (he missed the Edubiase game due to an illness, coach Addo said) And that barren spell has turned out to be sunshine that other marksmen are making hay off. The Berekum Chelsea duo of Stephen Baffour and Kofi Owusu have caught up with him, while Sheriff Mohammed (Allies) and Bernard Morrison (AshGold) are all a goal away now.

---Berekum Chelsea are now in third place! Can you believe it? They just popped up from nowhere. Three wins in their last four games and they are now cozying up at the top. And with their 11 goals in seven games, they have scored three more goals than any other team this season too. I’m particularly made up for their striker Kofi Owusu, who had a torrid rime at Aduana last season following his move from King Faisal (where for me he had been brilliant). “I believe my move [to Chelsea] is the best because I was not having the needed playing time which affected my progress immensely," Owusu told Goal Ghana's Evans Gyamera before the start of the season. “The officials at Chelsea have entrusted their faith in me and it paid off during our pre-season matches. I have now gotten back my lost confidence and I know I will score a lot of goals for the team this season to achieve our target.” A lot of goals, eh? How about this season’s first hat-trick to show for all that talk. Owusu scored thrice in his side’s 4-2 win over Regional rivals Bechem United. He's now on five goals.

---After a forgettable time away in South Africa, AshGold’s Yakubu Mohammed is back home in Obuasi, and he’s back to what he does best: banging in the goals. That’s two goals in his last two games.


Hearts of Oak 1-2 New Edubiase United [Shaun Mason October : Alhassan Nuhu, Fusseini Nuhu]

WAFA 2-0 Liberty Professionals [Mathew Antwi 2x]

Medeama 3-2 Greta Olympics [Benjamin Batture, Joseph Tetteh, Kwame Boahene : Agbesi Dotse 2x]

Inter Allies 2-0 Aduana Stars [Sheriff Mohammed 2x]

Berekum Chelsea 4-2 Bechem United [Kofi Owusu 3x, Stephen Baffour : Noah Martey 2x]

BA United 1-0 Hasaacas [Francis Kyeremeh]

AshantiGold 2-1 Asante Kotoko [Yakubu Mohammed, Bernard Morrison : Latif Mohammed]

Wa All Stars 0-1 Heart of Lions [Sam Yeboah]

Sunday, 8 February 2015

GPL Match Day 6 Blog - Hearts stun Kumasi with surprise Superclash triumph

Post Match Presser: L-R Man of  the Match Shaun Mason October, Hearts coach Herbert Addo, Hearts skipper Robin Gnagne

KUMASI --- In the end, Gilbert Fiamenyo led a few of his teammates in a spirited sprint to the Asokwa (scoreboard) end of the Kumasi Sports Stadium where their fans were in wild jubilation, waving their rainbow-coloured paraphernalia with vigour. Fiamenyo did the hand-across-neck gesture. “Y3 ku )mo [We’ve killed them],” he seemed to be saying, with furious emphasis. The fans roared even louder.

On the pitch, captain Robin Gnagne raced to the touchline, charging at his coach Herbert Addo like a bull on the loose. This wasn’t an angry bull, though. This was a bull that had been tamed by happiness; one overwhelmed with fulfillment and brimming with pride at a difficult task executed to perfection. In a moment that evoked deep emotion, he reached for Addo – the man who masterminded it all - and lifted him up, other players later joining in to give their experienced coach a kingly ride.

And boy, did Addo deserve it. Last week, in Accra, after a terrible performance against Liberty Professionals at home, Herbert Addo sat the press conference. Hearts had picked up five points from five games, and were now lying 13th on the log. Inside the press room, media men and women were ready to have a go at him with tough, critical questions. Outside, disgruntled and impatient fans waited for him to finish so they could rain bitter insults on him. The pressure he faced was so suffocating, but Addo looked calm and isolated from it all. He boldly claimed that his side were going to surprise Kotoko, after a journalist had questioned whether with such a poor display, Hearts were confident going into an encounter as “dicey” as the Kotoko one was going to be. Addo had smiled. “Sometimes you people ask some questions that make me laugh,” he began.  “Dicey for who? For us or for Kotoko? We are going to play. We are ready.”

Fast forward six days later and he had actually beaten Kotoko at their own grounds in Kumasi, in the process ending Hearts’ seven-game winless run against their arch rivals. By the 8th minute, Hearts had managed to successfully puncture Kotoko’s confidence, silencing the Kumasi crowd. The tireless hard worker Selasi Adjei turned up in the box to tap in a cross from winger Thomas Abbey, a goal that proved decisive in a very close encounter. Journalists who watched that Liberty game and had made the trip to Kumasi were certainly surprised, not least because of the vast improvement the team exhibited. What had Addo done? Why had he been so confident about this game back in Accra?  “If you look at my record – and I’ve been with Kotoko several times – while I was there, we always beat Hearts. Also, anytime I’m with Hearts - even though we don’t win all the time - we never lose to Kotoko. So if I’m here, I like to maintain that record and vice versa. So you shouldn't be surprised that I won today,” he said. He was smiling again. He looked relieved.

That relief had been reflected in the manner in which Hearts celebrated at the blast of the final whistle. An uniformed observer would have been forgiven to think that they had just won a Cup final. It had been their first win since Match Day one, following four games without a win. Their hunger had been palpable, and it had been justified in the end too. “The eyes of the Hearts of Oak players were even more red than the Kotoko jersey,” Addo said. “Kotoko’s were also red but it was dim,” – laughter from journalists followed – “and that means our players were more prepared to die than the Kotoko players.”

The one goal recorded didn't do justice to the tie, because this was that explosive match from start to finish. Bar Kotoko winger Prince Baffoe (who was bizarrely pulled off on 30 minutes for the pacy Frank Sarfo Gyamfi) and Hearts’ young goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakil (whose amateurish, immature and sometimes comical time wasting antics threatened to mar the beauty and seriousness of the game), every player – across both teams – stepped up to the plate in what was an end to end, edge-of-your-seat cracker of a game. It had it all; a high octane contest overflowing with immense passion, the free-flowing attacking football across board providing intense attraction. The cliché goes that this clash – the biggest on the Ghanaian football calendar – never follows the readings on paper, and this was yet another reminder; yet another reason why this clash will always remain relevant even against the recent worrying culture of apathy.

Both sides certainly deserved to win his match - their 101st league meeting - but there could only be one winner. Hearts narrowly emerged victorious in what was their 18th win in Kumasi against Kotoko, five of those coming in the last nine years alone. Many present described Hearts’ goal as ‘lucky’; and while this sounded condescending, it was to be fair more of an accurate comment on how close the game had been. Even Addo concurred. “I really thank God for that ‘lucky’ goal because we’ve not had luck in our previous games!” he said. Kotoko coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, who had just lost his first Superclash after four previous encounters, agreed too. “Luck eluded us,” he opined. Whether this win will prove positively pivotal for Hearts’ season remains to be seen, but Addo certainly relished the motivation drawn. “Having beaten Kotoko, the champion club, we are inspired to work harder."

Team Kotoko. L-R: Captain Jordan Opoku (who would come under attack from fans right after this) and coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani

Meanwhile, for Kotoko, trouble brewed. Frustrated fans gathered in groups at the car pack behind the VIP area deep into the night. The loss had not gone down well. Could you blame them? Hearts had come into the game off the back of a disastrous run of form, and had still managed to come to Kumasi to beat their club – a club that won the league and Cup double last season. "Sekan awu koraa na 3ny3 kontomire [No matter how blunt a knife is, it can always cut up leaves!]," a Hearts fan teased cheerfully from up the stairs leading to the VIP stands, rubbing salt in the wounds of the irritated Kotoko fans. Imagine the pain.

Tempers were high, and a scape-goat was to be caught soon. Some angry fans confronted captain Jordan Opoku, verbally abusing him. It almost got physical too. It wasn’t a pretty scene.

Why? It seemed the loss had opened a nasty can of worms. Apparently there’s a conspiracy theory going round that says Opoku is the ring leader of a gang in the squad – the others being defender Abeiku Ainooson, winger Richard Mpong and vice-captain Michael Akuffo – who have vowed never to give passes to Ivorian striker Ahmed Toure.

According to the fans, Toure’s much-publicized big money signing at Kotoko before the season (a fan bought him a car and a plot of land) – coupled with the superstar treatment he gets  – seems to have irked these players, hence their decision to starve him off support. “They did the same thing against Hasaacas. The same thing! They never pass to Ahmed. If previous players for our club had played with such 'abr)' [jealousy-inspired wickedness] do you, Jordan, think you would have come to meet Kotoko as such a big club?” a fan complained.

What if these were baseless accusations? It was a question that certainly pissed off another fan.“I live right next to the house of a player. Do you think I don’t here the stuff going on in the team? This is unacceptable. I even heard Toure’s contract has a provision that says he receives money after every goal. So because of this they’ve decided not to pass to him? They will carry on this behavior for us to see!”

The following comment from another fan, though, stood out: “I bought a ticket! And a yoghurt! I don’t deserve to see such nonsense!” he fumed. “I’m not going home. I’ll sleep here!”


---AshGold keep winning. They went to Dansoman and actually beat an in-form Liberty Professionals team at home. That is 15 points out of a possible 18, and that is very, very impressive.

---After three consecutive losses, Olympics have managed to bounce back – and in some style too. A 2-0 win over a team as strong as Hasaacas? How good is that? Top marks to coach Kassim Mingle Ocansey. His optimism through those losses was admirable.

---B.A United have now gone five consecutive games without a single win since their opening day derby win over Bechem United. Their latest loss was yet another derby loss; a 1-0 defeat to Aduana in Dormaa. They are playing Hasaacas at home next. It could be a sixth loss on the trot. The Apostles of Ghana soccer are really finding life at the top hard, aren’t they?

---Fan and media attendance for the Superclash between Kotoko and Hearts was at an all-time low, but thankfully the football on the pitch wasn't as bad. Many see the low patronage as a reflection of the general assertion that the rate of interest in the league is dwindling, which isn't far from the truth, to be fair. The thing is the game was always going to be lose out to the conditions - ranging from Saturday not being a traditional football day, the Afcon buzz as well as numerous big clashes around the world in top leagues. That said, both clubs could have certainly gone the extra mile regarding promotion knowing they were up against such a heavy tide.

---It’s now two wins in three games for Swede coach Tom Strand at Medeama. The Tarkwa-based club have some really great players, and it they keep this form up, could grow into a threat for the title hunters at the top.

---Berekum Chelsea’s Stephen Baffour (four goals) is steadily closing in on Gilbert FIamenyo’s five goal tally on top of the top scorer’s chat. Fiamenyo has gone three games without a goal.


Asante Kotoko 0-1 Hearts of Oak [Selasi Adjei]

Aduana Stars 1-0 B.A United [Francis Larbi]

Bechem United 1-1 WAFA [Noah Martey : Kennedy Kissi Koranteng]

New Edubiase 3-2 Wa All Stars [Malik Tahiru, Nuhu Fuseini, Alhassan Nuhu : Abdul Ganiyu Ismail, Paul De Vries]

Heart of Lions 0-0 Inter Allies

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Ashanti Gold [Yakubu Mohammed]

Medeama 1-0 Berekum Chelsea [Nathaniel Asamoah]

Great Olympics 2-0 Hasaacas [Francis Attuquaye, Kwame Boateng]

Thursday, 5 February 2015

GPL Match Day 5 Blog: Herbert Addo feeling the heat

Hearts and Liberty Professionals before the game. It ended 1-1, Tamimu Muntari's (Liberty) early first half strike cancelled out by a late Richard Yamoah (Hearts) header in the second half

ACCRA --- It was at this same venue, against the same team. Last season, Hearts of Oak had finished off city rivals Liberty Professionals by the end of the first five minutes. Two quick-fire goals meant the Phobians had made sure the contest had ended before Liberty could say Jack; business done nice and early.

This season, to say the story was different wouldn't do justice to what happened.

What happened to Hearts in the first half of Wednesday’s mid-week clash against Liberty Professionals would be hard to explain. It was jaw-dropping stuff. It was bizarre. If one scene from the half summed up their woes, it was the image of star striker Gilbert Fiamenyo holding on to the ball on the edge of the box for close to 20 seconds, screaming his lungs out for support from lackadaisical teammates who didn’t show a scintilla of interest in either moving into space or relieving him off the ball. There were countless times when they would be on the defensive end of a counter attack – about three defenders facing five attackers attackers  – and their players would muster the audacity to walk casually, as if nothing was at stake.

The 20-time national champions looked like a group of eleven impostors – amateur footballers posing as professionals.  It was the worst performance you would ever see, a gut-wrenching show of cluelessness. These were a group of players who had turned up at their own show and taken seats to see themselves perform. It was so bad – and so sad - that at a point you felt they would stop the game and apologize to their obviously disappointed fans for such a glaring show of unacceptable standards.  There wasn’t a single thing they did right; not even the slightest indication that this was a serious football team. There was a sense of soullessness about them; no hunger, no urgency, no sense of duty, no organization, no coordination, no attitude, no creative spark, no sense of purpose – just a display of mind boggling incompetence and sheer mediocrity from players who looked incredibly passive. It was so surreal that at times you could see their visitors visibly overwhelmed by how easy it all looked.

But perhaps assessing things from that perspective would be taking something away from the brilliance of their opponents. And goodness knows they do not deserve that. Liberty Professionals – with one of the smoothest attacking machinery you would ever see - went through a basically non-existent Hearts midfield with stroll-in-the park ease. Led by the graceful Kennedy Ashia - a player who stood head and shoulders above every single soul on the pitch – the sharp and inventive Dansoman boys exuded exciting technique and speed – laying into Hearts, thrusting them mercilessly as the gaping holes in defence served as the facilitating lube. Above all, though, it was their telepathy that was enchanting. “They played with a lot of coordination. If anybody coughed, the other person knew what he wanted,” Hearts coach Herbert Addo praised. Only a bluntness in attack kept the score line tidy. “They gave us a hell of a time,” Addo admitted. “We’ll not meet a better team than Liberty, from what I’ve seen so far.”

What was more mysterious than Hearts salvaging a point from a game they clearly deserved to lose was coach Addo claiming at the post-match presser that the 1-1 score was “fair”. That assertion was just the tip of the iceberg of Addo’s largely strange demeanor. The contrast between the debacle on the pitch and Addo’s calm, all is well-themed comments was startling. The accomplished tactician looked like a man conveniently detached from reality, a man unwilling to admit that his team’s showing smacked of danger especially going into next Saturday’s all-important clash with arch-rivals Asante Kotoko in Kumasi as well as a home tie in the CAF Confederations Cup a few days later against AS Police. With such big tasks looming, Addo’s claims of “we are ready” was admirable given the level of pessimism, but it seemed desperately incongruous off the back of such a shambolic display. It was all very strange, not least because of the fact that he later claimed, “I am an experienced coach and I accept my mistakes”. His blatant refusal to admit that things had been that bad – “I saw in their eyes that they wanted to win!” (Seriously!?) - was very conspicuous, which makes you wonder if it was him being genuinely delusional or pulling off a wild bout of mind games.

Even more dangerous was his defensive demeanor.  Apart from a tedious lecture about a long list of excuses for his team’s difficult start to the season – ranging from injuries, lengthy recruitment period, players being on national duty, illnesses and cards - he also waded into the sensitive intricacies of antagonizing the media. He accused the press of being overly skeptical about his side’s poor start to the season, a run of form that has seen them win only once in five outings, scoring only six goals (five of which have been scored by one man, a worrying sign of over-dependence). He also hit back at the “ridiculous” entertainment of rumours by some radio stations that he had not been paid for months.  “Has anybody complained about money? Not being paid? Salaries? Signing on fee? I have certainly not complained,” he retorted. “I’m a professional man and I work under a professional contract.”

Okay, so perhaps, Hearts had been that off because they were tired? “No,” he lashed out. “It wasn’t that they were tired. The training I give them is precise. It’s about coordination, and we haven’t got it yet. We are slower in analyzing [options when in possession]. But it’s football, and that is why we coach them. We have a lot of work to do.”

High table at the post match presser. L-R: Liberty midfielder Tuaha Sheikh Hizzel, Liberty coach George Lamptey, Hearts coach Herbert Addo and Hearts striker Gilbert Fiamenyo

To be fair, the pressure has been mounting on Addo and such a charged response was always going to come. But what was striking was that he seemed to show signs that his trademark tough skin had been compromised; that the frustrations was eating him up. For instance, his advice to the media to stop being negative about his side’s struggles was an appeal unexpected from a man whose years of experience should surely suggest he should be familiar with the media being addicted to sensationalism and negativity. “If you ask me positive questions, I will give you a sensible answer,” he said. “But if you ask me off the hook questions (uninformed questions without prior observation, according to him) then I will give you a left hook.”

After the presser, outside, a disgruntled fan had lost it and was making a huge scene. He paced back and forth impatiently behind the police barrier between himself and the Hearts team bus, where coach Addo was having a conversation with the Bus driver. A barrel-chested 30-something year old, the fan was bitter – venomous, too - blowing a gasket. “You useless coach! What do you know? Do you think your position here is cast in stone? That we cannot sack you? Even [David] Duncan we sacked him. You go to Kumasi and return and see what we will do to you. You wait. Just wait!”

The bad news for Addo – who commendably stayed calm and unresponsive amid the insults - is that things cannot be as ideal as he wants them to be. Somewhere in between the emotions of being disappointed by their team’s under-performance, Hearts fans are in no mood to be reasonable. Patience is a myth at a big club like Hearts – there’s a culture of unforgiving criticism and an inevitable eruption of knee jerk reactions when the going gets tough. Addo can only quell this unrest with results.


---Last week, I praised Aduana’s unbeaten run and asked how long they would be able to hold on? I felt I was jinxing it, and it turns out I wasn’t wrong. They lost.

---The interesting thing going into next weekend’s big Kotoko-Hearts clash in Kumasi is that both teams are in such underwhelming form. Kotoko travelled to Wa and failed to win.  That’s eight points from a possible 15 for Didi Dramani’s Porcupine Warriors this season – an extremely poor return not only because they are champions and should be doing better, but because last season at this point they had 15 out of 15 points. It is extremely worrying to think both these clubs will be representing Ghana in Africa this season. They need to use this Saturday’s clash to sort themselves out. These giants need to start getting serious.

---AshantiGold are back to winning ways – and back on top of the table too. 12 points out of 15 – two points clear at the summit. Not bad at all for Bashir Hayford’s men, though it’s early days yet.

---WAFA got their second win of the season and are now six points off the top, three off fourth place. Settling into their stride?

--Sekondi Hasaacas are really looking good.  Sitting in second place, coach Yusif Basigi’s men – who beat ended Aduana’s unbeaten run – are in Accra this weekend to Great Olympics. Olympics though. They have now lost three games on the trot and are still sitting bottom. Early days yet, but coach Kassim Mingle must be feeling like he’s in the same oven as Herbert Addo.

---Last Sunday, gangling Inter Allies striker Sherif Mohammed had not even been on the bench as his side drew goalless with Liberty Professionals. I was there, and I spoke to him (he’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet). He seemed convinced his time would come. The following Friday, he went to Kumasi and had a good outing against Kotoko where he struck the post. Five days later, and he scored a brace as Inter Allies won their first game since Match Day 1. Chuffed for him.

--Gilbert Fiamenyo was named Player of the Month by Hot FM, an Accra-based radio station. Five goals in five games, totally deserved. But there was a twist: it was presented in the weirdest manner. They actually pulled him apart from his teammates during half time and made the presentation on the touchline. Half time! With Hearts a goal down and the coach needing his players in the dressing room for a vital pep talk. Couldn't they have waited till the end of the game!? Or better still, why not before the game? It was unfortunate.

---Berekum Chelsea’s Stephen Baffour is now on four goals, breathing down the neck of top scorer Gilbert Fiamenyo  – who hasn’t scored in his last two games. Pressure? “I’m not under pressure,” he says. “It’s part of the game, sometimes you score and sometimes you don’t.”


Wa All Stars 0-0 Asante Kotoko

Hearts of Oak 1-1 Liberty Professionals [Richard Yamoah : Tamimu Muntari]

Hasaacas 2-1 Aduana Stars [Frederick Quayeson, Amos Korankye]

B.A United 1-1 Heart of Lions [Francis Kyeremeh : Tanko Mohammed]

AshantiGold 2-1 Bechem United [Shaffiu Mumuni, Benard Morrison : Noah Martey]

WAFA 1-0 Medeama [Mumuni Zakaria]

Inter Allies 2-0 New Edubiase [Sherif Deo Mohammed 2x]

Berekum Chelsea 1-0 Great Olympics [Stephen Baffour]

Sunday, 1 February 2015

GPL Match Day 4 Blog: Unbeaten Aduana savouring early season bliss

Abdul Rahman Ameyaw poses for a photo after the post match presser

ACCRA --- When he walked in, taking his seat in front of journalists gathered, the glow on his face was so bright. Turn off the lights inside the Accra Sports Stadium's press room and Abdul Rahman Ameyaw's face would have lit up the place. The Aduana coach, a very well-trimmed man,  was all smiles, dressed in an aptly coloured bright orange lacoste shirt, his beefy chest and bulging biceps particularly standing out. The air of bonhomie he exuded was contagious.

When he began speaking, he proved as interesting as his demeanor. He is known to outsiders as Ameyaw, but at home in Dormaa, everyone refers to him by the most interesting nickname you will ever hear off: ‘Holy sinner’. Inevitably, I had to satisfy my curiosity, and he was generous enough to share his story too. “When we were in school, you know, boys tried to pick up names and I had one of my seniors was called ‘Sugar pepper’.  So I said to myself, okay, why don’t I also take two names. I thought; ‘Every person has a good side and a bad side, so when you are on the wrong side you are sinning, and when you are on the good side you are holy’," he explained with an almost childish excitement, ending it abruptly with a smile that seemed to say, 'the rest is history'.  Some journalists burst into fits of laughter.

Ameyaw was probably that bubbly because his side had just beaten home side Great Olympics 1-0. But it was a game that saw them largely outplayed. Completely dominated, in fact. Olympics hungrily went at Aduana and incessantly attacked them for almost the entire game – “If football was a boxing game the referee would have stopped the game earlier,” said their coach Kassim Mingle – but couldn’t score. “We worked hard and created a lot of chances but we could not score as we wasted a lot of them. It was hard luck on our part,” Mingle moped. “If you miss chances, you get punished,” admitted Olympics captain Francis Mantey.

But Ameyaw clearly didn't seem worried about being in the shadow of Olympics' dominance all game. It was, afterall, a  pre-meditated style, a well-calculated strategy. This was how they wanted it. This was exactly what they had planned to do. “We heard about how Olympics came back to beat Lions 3-2 in their last home game so when we came in our plan was to keep them at bay and hit them on the counter and luckily we were able to come up with that goal,” he revealed.

The goal had been a 42nd minute Richard Arhin header from a well-struck Daniel Darkwa corner. “Accidentally our goalkeeper fumbled and they had the goal,” Kassim Mingle said, adding: “They didn’t work for that goal.”

Ameyaw begged to differ. “We work on set-pieces, that is our hallmark,” he beamed. It had been a job well done, a mission well accomplished in the simplest, most effective way. “One goal, three points. That’s all we need. That’s the most important thing," he said with a sense of satisfaction. “It was a sweet victory for us.”

Olympics coach Kassim Mingle Ocansey

Sweet victory indeed. The win – coming on the back of losses suffered by their top of the table competitors AshantiGold, Hasaacas and Wa All Stars – meant Aduana were the only side in the league that had emerged from Match day four unbeaten. More significantly, it meant they had climbed to the top of the table.

Ameyaw opines his boys’ early season is due to the team's “discipline, dedication, self control,”, but a club insider, media officer Kwasi Appiah Kusi, puts it all down to Ameyaw himself. “He’s such a good coach. He knows the club’s ins and outs and knows every player inside out too. He also has a cordial relationship with all of them,” Kusi, popularly known as ‘White man’, said.

Unknown to many, Ameyaw was actually the brain behind Aduana’s debut qualification to the top flight in 2009/10 season, but a lack of appropriate certification meant he had to make a step down and play second fiddle to the more experienced Herbert Addo – now coach of Hearts of Oak. Addo went on to make history, winning the league title that very same season. Aduana had come straight from the second tier to rule the roost in the Premier League, a remarkable run which was as bizarre as the manner in which they did it: a record of W-15 D-8 L-7 GF-19 GA- 10, chalking 53 points.

Since becoming the first team out of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana to become league champions – joining a prestigious league of nine clubs who have won the league in it’s close to 57 year history - the Dormaa-based club have essentially failed to measure up to their potential, finishing outside the top four in the last four seasons. But this season, they want to change things and step up.

Ameyaw – whose longevity at the club means he has had many spells in charge in between many other coaches -  came back to replace controversial Serbian trainer Milutin Bogdanovic in the middle of last season, fresh from the pursuit of a CAF license B course. A fans' favourite, Holy sinner is now managing a very coherent squad – “About 90% of them have been at the club for close to six years,” Kusi says – that also abounds with talent.

The very popular Godfred Saka - considered by many as the best right back in Ghana

The quality runs through. There's recently capped Ghana international goalkeeper Stephen Adams, set-piece specialist and goal-scoring right back Godfred Saka, the very physical captain Emmanuel Akuoko and his rocky central defensive partner-in-crime Abdul Ganiyu, the energetic holding midfielder Seth Opare as well as an attack brimming with speed, skill and goals: the likes of James Abban, Daniel Darkwa, Sam Adams, Elvis Opoku and Stephen Arhin.

Arhin, in particular, has been the hero for the team thus far this season. His well-timed header against Olympics was his third goal in four games this season. It could not have been so, though, but for the work of Ameyaw. “People have complained a lot about him but every coach has his own talisman, and he is one of them,” Ameyaw said of his striker, who is enjoying a breakthrough after two quiet previous seasons. “I know what he is capable of doing. People keep commenting about him but I don’t listen. I have had all the confidence in the world in him and I always know that at the crucial point he will deliver for me.”

Aduana’s early season form has got fans dreaming. “We are hoping to in the league,” Kusi said. “Even if that doesn’t happen, we don’t want to go beyond the top four zone. We believe this is possible because our patron and bank roller Nana Agyemang Badu (the paramount chief of the Dormaa Ahenkro) is giving us everything we need, like he’s always done. Money is never a problem for our club as long as we perform. You know, we pay the highest winning bonuses in the whole of the league!”

Are Aduana eyeing their second title now that they’ve started the season so well? Or is it too early to entertain such ambitions? In response, Ameyaw had an interesting analogy ; one that seemed terribly misplaced initially, but seemed to make sense eventually in a cryptic, mind game-like sense. “If you cannot beat them, you join them. So we’re joining those who are in the race. Our aim is to join those who are at the top.”

What he was sure of, and thus clear about, was that his side isn't going to succumb to the pressure and intimidation of being on top of the log. “We all started at the same time. We're all playing in the same league. We have good players too. We are going to compete with them."


---Medeama signed up expat coach Tom Strand - the youthful, movie-star looking Swedish tactician -  last week. First game into his tenure and he has already secured the Tarkwa-based club their first win of the season - a 2-0 win over Ashanti Gold. In so doing, they proved strong enough to halt Ash Gold’s 100% record start to the season too. AshGold were bound to lose at some point, but will this loss derail their form?

---Hearts’defensive frailties coupled with their conspicuous dependence on Gilbert Fiamenyo caught up with them once more as they lost 1-0 in Bechem. It has been a weird start steeped in mixed feelings for the Phobians – they aren’t playing either poorly or exceptionally. The results, though, haven't been good, and they know they need to step up to the plate before the season gets complicated. It's not going to get any easier too. Herbert Addo will definitely be feeling the heat going into next week’s ‘Super Clash’ with arch rivals Asante Kotoko – who won their second game on the trot earlier on Friday – next weekend. Kotoko coach Didi Dramani was in Bechem to scout his opponents too. Next week should be interesting. Who is your money on?

---Hasaacas and Wa All Stars (in addition to hitherto leaders AshGold) all lost their unbeaten records. All Stars, particularly did so while conceding their first goal this season. The season is getting real and personal, with resistances being broken. How long the last team standing - Aduana -  holds on remains to be seen.

-- B.A United have now lost three games on the trot, sitting rock bottom of the table. Whipping boys? They have more time to prove doomsayers wrong, because unlike WAFA, they haven't looked like a side that have what it takes quality-wise to endure top flight pressure.


Friday: Asante Kotoko 1-0 Inter Allies [Dauda Mohammed]

New Edubiase 2-1 BA United [Nuhu Fusseini, James Boadu : Enoch Gyimah]

Liberty Professionals 1-0 Wa All Stars [Emmanuel Antwi]

Berekum Chelsea 2-0 Sogakope WAFA [Samuel Kyereh, Stephen Baffour]

Great Olympics 0-1 Aduana Stars [Richard Arhin]

Hearts of Lions 2-0 Hasaacas [Mohammed Razir, Abdulai Abdul Karim]

Medeama SC 2-0 AhsnatiGold [Nathaniel Asamoah 2x]

Bechem United 1-0 Hearts of Oak [Hamza Mohammed]