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Hearts taste bitter defeat in the hands of Kotoko

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An obviously shocked Accra Hearts of Oak Coach Nebojsa Vucicevic  had little words of consolation for the Phobian faithful minutes after his side succumbed to a 2:0 loss to arch-rivals Kumasi Asante Kotoko.

When asked what went wrong with his team, the Serbian replied “I don’t know what happened because we prepared very well for the game. Maybe too much crowd.”

The Serbian who only took charge of the Phobians after the African Nations Championship was clearly not sure about what exactly hit his team after gifting time and space consistently to Kotoko for long periods in the game.

And indeed for a club that is celebrating its centenary, the manner of the defeat was very hard to take and Hearts left the Ohene Djan Stadium with an uncertain future with many questions lingering about the once dreaded African Champions.

But from a keen observer’s point of view, the reasons for the defeat was quite clear and it can be explained by events on the match day as well as the recruitment of players especially the second round.

Many of us were caught up in the euphoria surrounding what is obviously the biggest game in club football in the country and for those who watched the game at the stadium, the battle begun during the warm up period.

On the back of a famous 1:0 victory over the porcupine warriors earlier in the season, Hearts came onto the pitch in a very confident mood.

In the searing heat at the stadium, the Hearts starting eleven and the substitutes undertook vigorous physical activities including jogging, breaking into spontaneous runs at high speed, three-aside games, rounding it up by waving white handkerchiefs to wild cheers.

The Phobians spent forty minutes on the warm up while Kotoko who wore black jerseys initially spent twenty minutes.

The effect showed clearly when the game began as it looked like the Hearts players had huge bags of cement strapped onto their backs in the early part of the game.

Kotoko were the livelier of the teams in the opening 20 minutes and first to the second ball against a side who still seemed to be suffering from the effect of their physical activity.

Before Hearts could awake from their slumber, Kotoko had already scored twice through the hard working Ahmed Toure and captain Daniel Nii Adjie on five minutes and 21 minutes respectively.

Ahmed Toure latched onto Alex Asamoah’s through ball before dispatching it home with the left foot after a long kick by goalkeeper Isaac Amoako.

Toure and Alex Asamoah combined to set up Nii Adjie for the more spectacular goal.

But that is not to take credit away from the hard working Kotoko players on the day.

The contest was effectively over after 30 minutes as the visitors reduced the pace of the game to a walking distance and forced their hosts to adapt to the custom of their game.

In their ensuing period, the Kotoko players’ superior technique enabled them to possess the ball and slice the Hearts defense open at will.

Hearts could only watch on in awe, praying the worse does not happen to them after crushing the fabulous boys 4:0 in a similar encounter in 1998 at the same venue.

Different attacking styles

The porcupine warriors easily picked Hearts right full back Philip Boampong as the weakest link in the home team’s defense and rightly so.

Boampong who has been used mostly as a central defender lacks the needed pace to play on the wing and his tackling still lacks the edge to play at the top level.

The National under-20 star is still thought of as a rough diamond almost two years after Ghana picked up gold at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.

Kotoko captain Daniel Nii Adjie took delight in disturbing the peace of the young man by running deep into midfield while striker Ahmed Toure took up the left wing position.

On an afternoon that the phobians badly needed some inspiration to beat their bitter rivals, the likes of Obed Ansah and Uriah Asante, failed to show up and Mr. Vucicevic had only one option –  to substitute them. I must admit though that, Opoku Afriyie brought some life into the Hearts team with some good passing and running down the right flank.

Kotoko didn’t play well in second half

For all their composed and confident play though, many Kotoko fans were disappointed that their team did not step on the gas pedal in the second half.

After a very composed display in the first half, it seemed to all that the porcupine warriors had been read the riot act by their coach after half time but the players showed a lack of interest to rub salt into their badly injured phobian opponents.

Lessons from Kotoko

When faced with the prospects of relegation in the first round of the league, after seven defeats on the trot, the Executive Chairman of Kotoko Dr. K.K. Sarpong took the wisest decision to open the chequebook and sign very quality players.

The list included the Gomoa Fetteh Feyenoord quartet of Awal Mohammed, Yaw Frimpong, Michael Akuffo and Nafiu Iddrisu as well as the Wa All Stars strike duo of Fatau Mohammed and Nathaniel Asamoah.

And I must emphasise that it was the quality of players the club signed that enabled them make the turnaround although some might argue that Serbian coach Bogdan Korack also had a hand in the success story with his conditioning technique.

It is remarkable that the new players brought an instant change to the team ever since the second round began.

Kotoko has won five matches while drawing one and losing one in seven matches in the second round.

Kotoko’s new found hero Awal Mohammed, is a tower of strength and assurance in the defense, Yaw Frimpong’s pace down the right wing continues to cause opponents more problems while Michael Akuffo has assumed a prominent role in central midfield and can be deadly rom dead ball situations.

The new darling boy Nathaniel Asamoah has scored three goals so far.

Hearts might be celebrating their centenary, but they need to wake up to the realities of the 21st century and try to take some lessons from the Kotoko management.

Way forward

Hearts effectively have to undergo rebuilding now not only because of the loss to Kotoko, but the reality is that the future looks bleak for a club that is celebrating its centenary.

The current crop of players at the club cannot withstand the pressures of the local league in the coming years whereas other clubs are now well positioned to continue with their successes.

Again, let me point out that the solution will not be in floating shares on the Ghana Stock Exchange to raise funds.

In my humble opinion, Hearts would be better off with sound management practices in other to attract potential sponsors.

In economic terms, Hearts must now admit they are in recession.

To paraphrase a quote most economists use “within every recession there is always a seed for recovery.”

The time might not be too late for Hearts to stage a revival.

 

By Erasmus Kwaw

Email: rasglatin@yahoo.com

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