Hearts of Oak defeated arch-rivals Asante Kotoko 1-0 at the Accra Sports Stadium on Sunday afternoon to take charge of the title race with just three games to end the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League (GPL).
Daniel Barnieh Afriyie’s second-half close-range finish was the only goal that settled the Super Clash, the match-day 31 fixture between the two most successful clubs in Ghana.
The Phobians have now opened a three-point lead at the top of the league table with 59 points after both teams came into the game tied.
The win could be what decides where the league title goes. The hosts – Hearts – have not won a league title since the 2008/09 season and look well on course to lift the title this season.
Hearts started the game on the front foot, winning successive set pieces around the Asante Kotoko box.
Midfielder Emmanuel Nettey was taken off the pitch after just ten minutes because of an injury after going down twice, the second time after taking a free-kick.
Frederick Ansah Botchway came in for his place in the 12th minute.
Hearts captain Fatawu Mohammed produced a good whip in from the right-hand side.
Kwadwo Obeng Jnr headed into the middle of the six-yard box that Daniel Afriyie connected well with his left foot but it was blocked.
Emmanuel Gyamfi was set free on the right flank for the first time in the 15th minute and he skipped past Mohammed Alhassan with ease and produced a low cross that Addo Sowah hesitated in clearing the ball, but no Kotoko player in the box to attack it.
The Porcupine Warriors got their first dangerous shot on target from 34 meters when Patrick Asmah had a good bend on the ball into the right top post but Richard Attah was equal to the task and parried it out for a Kotoko corner.
Goalkeeper Kwame Baah was put in an awkward situation at the half-hour mark when Habib Mohammed sent back a high-heavy ball he had to struggle to head away to safety.
Left-back Raddy Ovouka got into his attacking strides for the first time in the game, racing down the middle. He struck a low ball with his weak left foot that Baah punched down before grabbing.
Fatawu Mohammed graced the upright after a strong run down the right side of the Kotoko box despite Asmah’s close running by his side 35 minutes into the game.
Gyamfi found space in the Hearts of Oak backline in the 38th minute, but Hearts center-back Addo Sowah was quick to clear the danger just a few meters ahead of the halfway line.
The Phobians finished the first half with a nervous moment. Gyamfi’s cross from the left flank was miscued as he attempted to put it to safety and it just went past the left post area to a corner kick.
A poor clearance by center-back Ismail Ganiyu almost got Hearts into a dream second-half start.
Salifu Ibrahim pounced on it and latched it towards the top right post, but Baah brought it down calmly two minutes in.
Patrick Razak was unlucky to get his 52nd minute shot into the body of an opponent inside the box after he picked up a failed clearance from a Salifu Ibrahim low cross that went out for a corner.
Fabio Gama produced a trademark pass over the top to set Gyamfi free in the 61st minute but the Kotoko captain went for a first-time shot that went into the sky.
Daniel Afriyie connected Frederick Ansah Botway’s deflected shot into the Kotoko net in the 66th minute to give Hearts the lead after an initial Salifu Ibrahim dink pass was not cleared far by the Kotoko defenders.
It was a reflection of what was happening from the 57th minute onwards. The Phobians were having the ball to themselves and created the outlet through Ovouka to Ibrahim and Botchway’s shot.
Barreto effected changes afterward hoping for the equalizer as he brought on Augustine Okrah for Salifu Mudasiru, but it could not work out as he wished.
Late in the game, Andy Kumi was set free by substitute Augustine Okrah who was speeding towards the goal but was flagged offside.
Kotoko did not show enough in attack the entire game to have scored.
And Afriyie, who was rejected after a trial with Kotoko’s goal, was all that settled the clash.
With three games to the end of the season, Hearts now lead the table with 59 points while the Porcupine Warriors are still on 56 points.
Coach Samuel Boadu’s side will next play Ebusua Dwarfs away, Liberty Professionals at home and will finish the season at WAFA.
Meanwhile, Asante Kotoko next take on King Faisal at home, Bechem United away, and will complete the season at home against Elmina Sharks.
📸🗣| UPDATED: The Standings after 7 matches of #GPLwk31:
– King Faisal vs Legon Cities and Karela vs Dwarfs on Monday.
— Footy-Ghana.com 🇬🇭 (@FootyGhana) June 27, 2021
By Abdul Karim Adamu Benin