Samuel Boadu cut a forlorn figure in his technical area as his listless Accra Hearts of Oak side drew 1-1 with Aduana Stars last Sunday afternoon, a result that stretched Hearts’ winless streak this season to three games — six, if we’re going back to 2020/21.
Boadu, who took over a struggling Hearts side earlier this year and re-constructed them as an all-conquering machine, was visibly apoplectic at the poverty of some of his players’ performances, with Daniel Afriyie Barnie and Emmanuel Nettey singled out by observers for significant criticism in the aftermath of a collectively sub-par performance.
Surely, these aren’t the standards Boadu has spent months establishing at Hearts. A paltry total of just three points from nine has seen an element of realism set in among the Hearts fanbase, leaving some to question what was indubitable last season: Boadu’s worthiness of his job.
But that’s football fans for you: fickle as can be. Then again, they’ve been spoiled by how quickly and impressively Boadu turned things around after taking charge. Hearts peaked very soon — too soon, perhaps? — at the touch of Boadu’s wand, taking on all comers as they went on to win a first league title since 2009 and the club’s first FA Cup trophy of this century.
Now, though, it appears opponents have started to figure Hearts out. The champions’ unpredictability has gone. Their zip and intensity are draining away, their confidence slowly giving way to what feels like doubt. There are even shades of the unimaginative outfit Boadu inherited, not the relentless unit he transformed them into.
Last season, when Hearts were on a roll, you would probably only have considered exchanging their forward line for Liverpool’s lethal front three; they were that unstoppable, that inevitable.
Suddenly, though, teams that didn’t score quite as freely as Hearts did in the previous Premier League campaign — like Asante Kotoko, Accra Great Olympics, Bechem United and King Faisal — are looking considerably more potent; heck, even newly-promoted Real Tamale United (RTU) are playing with a sharper bite.
It isn’t just on the offence that Hearts seem to lack a plan. They are also hardly organised at the back, where individual mistakes have haunted the team, with the previously dependable Robert Addo Sowah performing only as reliably as a cardboard cut-out of himself.
Don’t pin it all on individuals, however. Watch the highlights of Hearts’ game with Aduana and, if you’re of a Phobian persuasion, you’d probably be frightened by the number of times the visitors slipped behind their opponents’ defence with a simple ball over the top. For that to be allowed to happen without intervention, time and again, should count as a dereliction of duty on Boadu’s part.
Tactically, then, nothing is quite working. The balance to the side has disappeared, and the sturdy defence which allowed them to win things last term is a shadow of its former self. Add to that a bunch of forwards who struggle for service and for goals, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for losing.
True, Hearts haven’t lost a game yet, but their cloud could be stripped of even that silver lining — already, the hitherto bright rainbow is fast fading from sight — during a run of fixtures ahead that includes tough domestic games and a two-legged continental assignment. They begin that run on Sunday, away to fellow heavyweight Ashanti Gold, another team that has had an underwhelming start to the season and is just as keen to recover.
Boadu now faces the task of picking his seemingly jaded players off the floor — dragging them, if need be — and assembling them into a settled starting XI which provides a platform on which to build the sort of partnerships that saw them thrive last season.
Failing that, the man who only recently was — and probably still is — the toast of Hearts fans could be toast.