It looked like, after Samuel Nii Noi took charge of Accra Hearts of Oak as interim trainer, the first task struck off his to-do list was reassigning penalty-taking duties.
Abdul Manaf Umar, following Raddy Ovouka’s late miss from the spot against Aduana Stars in the postponed Match-week 1 game back in December 2020, was entrusted with that responsibility by head coach Kosta Papic.
Manaf’s seemingly cavalier style paid off in the very next game, away to King Faisal, to seal a last-gasp win. It didn’t yield as well earlier this month against Legon Cities, however, as the young man’s technique — prioritizing placement over power — played rather easily, and rather literally, into goalkeeper Winfred Honu’s hands.
Following last week’s messy end to Papic’s brief re-marriage with Hearts, that baton of responsibility fell to Aidoo, and Noi’s big call — or was it Papic’s ‘dying’ wish? — worked a treat when Ebusua Dwarfs came to town on Sunday; two powerfully struck penalties — the sound of boot connecting with ball, and ball with twine, surely warming many a Phobian heart — by the former Samartex striker handed Hearts a healthy lead within 20 minutes.
But Dwarfs, drawing inspiration from their four previous trips to Accra this term, shrugged off the deficit. The Cape Coasters had picked 10 points from those visits — also boasting the league’s second-best away record — and did feel confident about scraping something here, too, even from a losing position.
Dwarfs convincingly converted a penalty of their own in the 76th minute through Dennis Korsah which, building on Moro Sumaila’s brilliant goal just before recess, had them level. A tense finale was set up, but Hearts prevailed through a beautiful Isaac Mensah winner whipped in on the turn.
And with that, Hearts ended a four-game winless run, spreading relief among all those fans who have spent the last few days seething at the club’s leadership, following the circumstances that surrounded Papic’s exit. But while Hearts have emerged from a week of gloom, there is still more than a decade’s worth of lowered standards to raise.
The players — themselves not absolved of blame over the Papic mess — have certainly shown the desire to move on from it all, but that would have to be matched by the composition of Hearts’ next technical bench, as well as the promised transformation of the beleaguered board.
The storm isn’t over yet — the mid-week duel with sinking Liberty Professionals would be one more stern test of Hearts’ character, and Sunday’s ‘Super Clash’ against archrivals Asante Kotoko sterner still — but, for now, here’s a breather.