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