By Wednesday evening, things were bad enough in the camp of Accra Hearts of Oak.
They’d just lost the latest Ga Mashie Derby duel, a Ghana Premier League match against city rivals Accra Great Olympics, courtesy of a 53rd-minute converted penalty. It was, rather embarrassingly, their fourth defeat in six league games against the club with which they’ve long contended for superiority in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Their exertions in the other two matches during that run proved only slightly more rewarding, fetching Hearts a point each.
Hearts had missed out on a chance to beat Olympics since last doing so in March 2020, when they dished out a 4-0 thumping to render the latter winless in the most recent 17 years of this fixture. In the ensuing three years, Olympics have had all the laughs and Hearts have gone empty-handed.
It wasn’t just this specific result or the occasion that stung, however.
That 1-0 loss is only the freshest setback in a string of bad results this season, especially at Hearts’ Accra Sports Stadium home.
Hearts fans — and, perhaps, the players themselves, too — appear to dread each game they have to play at a ground that ought to offer them comfort and an advantage against most opponents. Going by home form alone, Hearts are in the league’s relegation zone, having won just three of ten games thus far.
They’re in sixth place, just two points off fourth, but eight behind league champions Aduana FC. Oh, and it was also at home that they were eliminated from the FA Cup, a competition the Phobians were looking to win for a third straight season, by Dreams FC in January.
And that’s why losing to Olympics — even though it was, technically, an away game for Hearts — saw the knives come out, naturally, and pointed at just one man: Slavko Matic, the Serbian manager parachuted in after a poor start to the campaign under the generally successful Samuel Boadu, his predecessor.
Boadu had his doubters and detractors in the Hearts boardroom towards the end, but he remained a firm favourite with the fans down to the day he was axed — and even afterwards.
Matic, then, only had a short rope with which to draw the Boadu-obsessed faithful towards him. A pretty decent start helped, but that streak quickly cooled, and now Matic is feeling the heat.
So Thursday came, and even before the coach had had time to analyse just what had gone wrong in the previous day’s match-up with Olympics, Hearts fans already had him in their crosshairs.
Kobby Jones, spokesperson for the official Hearts national supporters’ group, sounded an unambiguous warning to a trainer who, just weeks prior, had taken a swipe at them.
“We will not allow Matic to lead Hearts of Oak to play against Asante Kotoko,” Jones told Asempa FM, referring to the upcoming game over the weekend against their archrivals — the club which, with Olympics a close second, Hearts absolutely hate losing to.
“If the management will not prevent him from being on the touchline [on Sunday], we will resist him because we believe he will not help us. We will do that.”
A day later, on Friday, they made good on that threat, apparently unable to wait anymore.
Before noon, the rising wave of anti-Matic sentiment — which the club moved quickly to hush — had begun to cast a very dark shadow.
He wasn’t, according to reports, merely prevented by some aggrieved fans from holding a training session (sounds familiar, Kotoko?); they allegedly manhandled him, too, and off to the police Matic marched.
Whether or not he’d march the Hearts team out when Kotoko come to town is uncertain.
There would, it must be said, be a lot riding on this Matchweek 20 league game which doubles as the 2023 President’s Cup clash: three points, and a trophy Hearts beat Kotoko to last season (which, particularly for the former, may just be the likeliest crack at silverware this term).
Yet in the increasingly unlikely event he makes it as far as the Accra Sports Stadium’s touchline, what is almost sure is that even sweeping all at stake wouldn’t save Matic’s skin or appease the irate fans.
Hearts is a house on fire, and it would take some quenching.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks