By the time Medeama were through with their hosts last Sunday, Accra Hearts of Oak looked nothing like a team that prides itself on “never say(ing) die”.
They were stone-dead. Buried. Obliterated.
If there was any solace at all for the Phobians on an occasion that saw them comprehensively humiliated, it lay in the fact that only about 800 of their fans had turned up to see the horror show (at a stadium capable of seating up to 40,000 spectators, but that’s a subject for another day).
More than 300 kilometres away, Tarkwa, the mining town to which Medeama’s roots are anchored, was bouncing away to the tune of the Premier League club’s biggest away win in years. And why not?
This, truly, was no ordinary victory.
It’s not everyday that Hearts, Ghana’s oldest club and the second-most successful in the division’s history, loses 5-1 — at home.
And, you could argue, David Ocloo’s team even got off easy.
The lone goal they scored — a leveller, at 1-1, that was soon drained of any consolatory value — came from a penalty that really shouldn’t have been.
Full-back Caleb Amankwah was already mid-air before contact was made with his Medeama marker, but referee Selorm Yao Bless called the decision in the former’s favour anyway. Salifu Ibrahim tucked the spot-kick away neatly — the only thing Hearts had to cheer all game.
Medeama shrugged off the seeming injustice and struck back, only piling on the misery as the afternoon went along. You could question the quality of some of the goals Hearts let in — a couple of stinkers, really — but certainly not the quality of the team that scored them or Medeama’s worthiness of the result.
At no point this season have Hearts been in peak shape, or anything even remotely close to that, and their streak of form going into this match — three defeats and one win in four games — didn’t make for blissful reading. Still, this was more about one team being incredibly confident and ruthless than about the other showing up flat and hopelessly vulnerable.
This was Medeama, for so long pretenders and nearly-men in title races, delivering a statement performance and an emphatic result to go with it.
This was epic.
It’s been a decade since Medeama won their first major piece of silverware, the FA Cup. Two seasons later, the trophy was theirs again, and they followed it up the very next year with a memorable debut in the Caf Confederation Cup.
Medeama haven’t had much to celebrate afterwards, and yet they’ve never seemed too far from adding to their collection, even coming within striking range of the most coveted of domestic football prizes, the Premier League title.
That, in fact, is what Medeama have been angling for, building towards, for years. After scrambling all over the league table for a number of seasons, Medeama appeared to have finally found a winning formula in 2018, and if that season had climaxed where it terminated — halfway, that is, due to a corruption scandal that rocked the very foundations of the Ghanaian game — Medeama would have been champions.
The man who led that charge was a certain Samuel Boadu, in his first season at the helm of a top-flight club. The next season under Boadu also ended at the same stage, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the truncation this time, and Medeama initially topped the pile again (before sliding down after being docked six points over disciplinary troubles).
The departure of Boadu — now a certified star — without seeing through his third term denied Medeama the opportunity to know just how a full-season title tilt may have played out; and that sense of deprivation was only compounded by seeing Boadu lead Hearts to glory that very year, 2021, while the Mauve & Yellows only managed to come fifth.
Medeama came back strongly in the next season, finishing second, albeit a full 11 points behind eventual champions Asante Kotoko, and they started the current season quietly confident of topping that performance. They had, after all, appointed one of the Ghanaian game’s most experienced and astute coaches, David Duncan.
Duncan, like Medeama, had the singular ambition of ending his own run without a Premier League title, and this felt like just the place to do so. A match, seemingly, made in heaven. But that bond soon unravelled, with relationships — and, most especially, results — quickly deteriorating.
He won just three of nine league games, including one of his last seven, and left his post just after getting knocked out of the FA Cup on Boxing Day by Karela United.
Umar Abdul Rabi stepped up and stepped in as interim boss — just as he had done a little over a year prior, after the early-season exit of Ignatius Osei-Fosu, in which capacity he oversaw the aforementioned runner-up finish.
This time, too, Rabi came to the rescue and achieved some stability, even improving the trend of results for a while, before himself walking away in March.
Enter a very familiar face: Evans Augustine Adotey.
The 58-year-old had served Medeama well in various capacities — as head coach, assistant coach, and technical director — between 2013 and 2017, an instrumental figure during the most successful spell in the club’s history.
He won that first FA Cup, had a hand in the second, and — between those conquests — coached the team through the business end of their 2016 African inter-club campaign, masterminding famous victories over TP Mazembe and Pitso Mosimane’s high-flying Mamelodi Sundowns.
You could understand why Moses Armah, owner of Medeama, and others at the club found Adotey’s return appealing. His old, steady hand was just what Medeama needed to continue on the course of stability and gradual upturn in fortunes Rabi had started.
A top-four slot would have been appreciated just fine, and, for a while, it didn’t look like Medeama’s efforts would yield much more. The likes of Aduana and Bechem United were the frontrunners, up until the last few weeks when Medeama have really gone hard on the accelerator.
Aduana’s 3-0 defeat to Accra Lions at the Accra Sports Stadium last Saturday helped Medeama, following their battering of Hearts at the same venue a day later, to top the log for the first time this season — and Adotey says they’re there to stay.
“Trust me, we will win the league after this victory,” he said after the game.
“The dream was to climb to the summit of the league table, and that mission is fulfilled. We will maintain the top spot until the final day.”
To do that, Medeama would need to get as many points as possible off their last three opponents, two of whom are relegation-threatened sides they face in Tarkwa, and fend off the competition.
It appears Medeama do have the kindest run-in, even if only by virtue of the fact that they avoid either of their immediate challengers; that’s a luxury neither Aduana nor Bechem — who clash at the former’s home, in a derby-of-sorts, on the final matchday — don’t have.
If Adotey and his charges are able to make that advantage count — and he has no doubt that they would — Medeama would have realised their ultimate objective in a season that didn’t seem theirs.
The last few years have been rather tumultuous at the club, having burned through six coaching appointments — interims included — since Boadu left.
The playing body has also undergone some significant change, which hasn’t always felt upbuilding. Notably, the midfield that held Medeama together has been pulled apart, with Kotoko snapping up the trio of Richard Boadu, Justice Blay and Rashid Nortey, while skipper Joseph Tetteh Zutah also ended his lengthy period of service to the club in February this year.
In all of this, somehow, Medeama have managed to find enough serenity and strength to mount this challenge, led by Adotey, reliable veterans like Kwasi Donsu, and Vincent Atingah, the centre-back whose coolness from 12 yards has him among the league’s topscorers.
That the long-awaited title should arrive in the very year Medeama are set to move into their brand new TNA Stadium is only the cherry on top, presenting the delicious prospect of potentially enjoying their maiden Caf Champions League campaign in Tarkwa.
It’s all the extra motivation Medeama need to get themselves over the line — if, that is, they’d need it at all.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks