Hearts players celebrate Kotoko defeat

Why relegation for Hearts of Oak is no longer a myth but harsh reality

There is always so much at stake when Ghana’s two biggest clubs, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko lock horns. I am transported back in time to the 1990 season, where both clubs were jostling for the league title.

Both teams faced each other in Kumasi and Shamo Quaye scored the game’s opening goal in the second half.

Baba Musah then headed home a corner kick to draw Asante Kotoko level but soon injured himself in trying to tackle Yaw Preko.

Sadly, that tackle ended the young defender’s football career.

Anthony Tieku eventually scored the winner and the 2-1 victory resulted in Hearts of Oak winning the title that season.

Fast forward 25 years and both teams met in Accra, but the circumstances were different and to some extent, bizarre.

Hearts of Oak needed to win to stave off the threat of relegation, and Asante Kotoko, apart from ensuring safety, wanted revenge for suffering a 0-1 loss in the first round in Kumasi, thanks to a strike by Selasi Adjei.

The bizarre nature of this game is encapsulated in an armed robbery attack on the team on the morning of the game.

The Premier League Board held urgent meetings because there was the very real possibility of Asante Kotoko pulling out of playing the match because of the attacks.

Eventually, the match came on and Hearts of Oak’s failings came to the fore.

Frankly speaking, the 4-0 victory over Heart of Lions was an aberration where Hearts of Oak was concerned because the Phobians at the moment cannot score goals to save their lives.

You would have expected Robin Gnagne to convert a first half penalty but it was saved by Eric Ofori Antwi.

I recall another game between both clubs in 1993 at the same venue, where Hearts of Oak won a penalty, but Kofi Nimo’s spot kick was saved by Anthony Osei Kwadwo. Asante Kotoko themselves won a penalty and it was converted by Frimpong Manso.

In Sunday’s game, the penalty save saw the heads of Hearts of Oak players drop and Asante Kotoko took advantage.

David Duncan seems to have given the club the propensity to score from set pieces and team captain Amos Frimpong headed home a corner kick to give Asante Kotoko the lead.

Hearts of Oak fought back in the second half and the introduction of Gilbert Fiamenyo seemed to give them bite.

Inusah Musah leveled for the Phobians and it looked as though Hearts of Oak could at least salvage a point, but it wasn’t to be.

Dauda Mohammed scored with ten minutes remaining and Ofori Antwi had to produce an excellent save to secure all three points for Asante Kotoko.

It is evident that the threat of relegation for Hearts of Oak is very real.

The club has 29 points from 25 games and the five games left are not easy at all.

Hearts of Oak will face Liberty Professionals in Dansoman on Wednesday, followed by a home game against Bechem United in Accra this coming weekend.

A clash with Medeama Sc in Tarkwa follows, before a home game against title chasers Berekum Chelsea and the finale in Sogakope against West Africa Football Academy (WAFA).

My biggest worry is that goal scoring remains a major challenge for Hearts of Oak.

For me, that is something that needs to be worked on, otherwise the next five games would be cases of the team playing well, but not scoring to dig themselves out of relegation trouble.

Indeed, Hearts of Oak would also have to rely on other results going their way.

Liberty Professionals and Bechem United are two out of four teams that could be dragged into the quaqmire and they are also two of Hearts of Oak’s next opponents.

The other two teams are Heart of Lions and New Edubiase United.

Hearts of Oak would be hoping that these aforementioned teams fall by the wayside, but they have to win virtually all five games to escape.

Hearts of Oak also need to stop kidding themselves that they are too big to be relegated. River Plate is one of Argentina’s biggest clubs and they were relegated a few seasons back.

So even though it is not a good situation, it is stark reality.

My take is that the club is paying for taking wrong decisions; from the IPO of shares to the sacking of David Duncan.

Fortunately for them, all is not yet lost, but the odds are not stacked in their favour at all.

It should be a very interesting time during the final match days of what has been a very interesting season.

 

By Christopher Opoku