In hindsight, it’s just as well that Asante Kotoko racked up so many points earlier in the 2021/22 Ghana Premier League season.
That blistering streak saw the Porcupine Warriors afford themselves enough breathing space as the campaign entered the home straight. After the events of the last few weeks, though, Kotoko are now in need of all the breathing space they can get.
Just when it appeared as though Kotoko were running away with the title, at break-neck speed, they’re now seemingly unable to place one firm, steady foot in front of another.
Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum’s team has lost its swagger, and a sequence of bad results has reduced the champions-in-waiting to champions-in-doubt. They’ve won just one of their last five games, losing twice. Especially worrying is their home form, with Kotoko picking just a point from the last nine available.
The Baba Yara Stadium, Kotoko’s fortress, has been overcome and plundered by recent visitors. A month ago, Legon Cities stormed the famous ground and inflicted a 3-1 beating. Aduana came next and stole a leveler near the end of a game that had seen Kotoko fail to take advantage of clear-cut opportunities to win.
Surely, not a third game, right?
Berekum Chelsea – against whom Kotoko haven’t had much joy at home in recent memory – also came, saw, and conquered. And they did it with ten men, following the sending-off of Osei Owusu in an incident in the second half that could have seen a couple more players on either side take an early shower.
Ten minutes from full-time, Kelvin Obeng curled in a fine strike past goalkeeper Ibrahim Danlad after getting the better of Kotoko centre-back Andrews Appau. Danlad has fonder memories of Chelsea’s last trip to the Baba Yara to face Kotoko, two years ago, when they also ran out 1-0 winners.
He – then on loan from his parent club, Kotoko – was on the winning side on that occasion; this time, he was at the wrong end, unable to stop Obeng’s ball from going in. Kotoko were unable – too deflated and too defeated, mentally – to come back.
They’d stumbled again on their march to glory, a procession that has slowly become a crawl. For a team that has always drawn so much fuel from its terraces – even these days when the fans fail to show up in their numbers – Kotoko’s struggles are a genuine reason for concern.
“When you play at home, definitely, you need to try as much as possible to double your efforts,” Ogum, the head coach, said after the latest disappointing result.
Now, though, they’d have to triple those efforts, as Kotoko wouldn’t enjoy many more home comforts before the season ends. The league leaders need just seven of the remaining 15 points to seal a first title in eight years, a dozen of which are scattered on the road.
That includes all of the next nine, a treasure hunt which would take Kotoko from Tarkwa to Obuasi to Accra, all within a week.
Medeama, the first of those opponents, have taken advantage of Kotoko’s fresh slip to go second, within six points of the top, and winning there – a venue where guests have only once been victorious in the league this season – would loosen the travellers’ collars a bit more.
It’s quite possible that Kotoko would return to Kumasi, for their penultimate game of the season, against Elmina Sharks, already confirmed champions. Away from home, Kotoko are actually the league’s best, with five more points in two fewer games than the next-successful side (Aduana) on that sub-table.
Kotoko have won even in places they never had – namely, Dormaa-Ahenkro and Sogakope – so their confidence, if they do have enough of that right now, wouldn’t be misplaced. Whatever worked for them in those games – whatever, indeed, worked for them over the course of the season, until now – would have to be summoned for this final push.