The obvious pick of the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League season’s 21st round of games was the clash between Asante Kotoko and Medeama, and quite understandably so.
A game between the teams placed first and fourth on the log, respectively — and which could potentially change the order at the top — was always going to make for interesting viewing, but there was so much more to this fixture.
Mariano Barreto, since taking charge of Asante Kotoko last month, appears to have taken the Porcupine Warriors up a notch. The team now creates more chances and scores with greater ease than it had managed prior to the Portuguese trainer’s arrival.
Barreto had achieved this without compromising the integrity of the backline he inherited, keeping three clean sheets in as many games — all of which helped propel Kotoko back to the summit.
Medeama, too, have made a seamless transition in terms of technical direction. Samuel Boadu, head coach for close to four seasons, did an amazing job with the Mauve & Yellow — even if there wasn’t any silverware to show for it — and many wondered just how life would be for the Tarkwa-based side after his mid-season departure to join Accra Hearts of Oak.
They needn’t have.
The new leadership, provided by coaches Yaw Preko and Yaw Acheampong, has succeeded in ensuring the team doesn’t have to cast covetous glances at the former gaffer and what he might be up to at his new station in the Ghanaian capital.
A string of impressive performances had lifted Medeama, ahead of the meeting with Kotoko, into the league’s top quarter, and this game was to be a test of how well they’d recovered from Boadu’s exit — and from a tough start to the season.
It wasn’t going to be easy, against a Kotoko side that had found the Len Clay Stadium quite warm as an adopted home, having comfortably won their first two games there.
It was widely expected, then, that Kotoko would win this one, too, to consolidate their lead and put some daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.
And, indeed, they started the game better, dictating the pace and showing greater attacking promise. It came as no surprise, really, when Imoro Ibrahim’s perfectly weighted cross was converted by skipper Emmanuel Gyamfi to put the hosts in front after just 13 minutes.
Medeama, remarkably, did not panic. The trio of Rashid Nortey, Zakaria Mumuni and Richard Boadu took matters into their own hands, instead, getting the better of Kotoko’s own midfield triumvirate — Habib Mohammed, Emmanuel Sarkodie and Fabio Gama — in an exciting contest.
An equaliser looked tantalisingly close, and it was both deserved and brilliant when, on the half-hour mark, it came. Prince Opoku Agyemang, continuing his revival since returning from an unsuccessful stint with South Africa’s Cape Town City, pulled parity quite exquisitely.
But Medeama weren’t done, going on to snatch the lead through Boadu — who, for large parts of the season, has played second fiddle to injured teammate Justice Blay — just before recess.
Medeama, in the second half, continued from where they left off, passing with flawless precision and bravely taking the game to Kotoko. Not even two substitutions — Benjamin Arthur for Zakaria Mumuni, Kwesi Donsu for Eric Kwakwa — saw Medeama’s shape change or their dominance wane.
Kotoko — keen to preserve their unbeaten run and start to life in Obuasi — did try to up the ante, but Medeama wouldn’t cave. Defenders Vincent Atinga, Bright Enchil and Ibrahim Yaro shielded Frank Boateng, the sparsely used goalkeeper who, when called on, expertly answered the questions asked.
Medeama held out for a famous win, one that saw them rise to lead the table for the first time this season, and which doubled as a statement of intent.
Preko, of course, was proud.
“We came with a plan and executed to perfection. My players were disciplined, tactical and superior for better parts,” the former national star said in his post-match remarks.
“We brought our A-game to bear and that showed in the final analysis.”
In truth, though, Preko didn’t always have his best players on the pitch, with some of Medeama’s more experienced assets — like Ahmed Toure, Donsu, Arthur and Eric Ofori Antwi — all on the bench at one point, while Blay, mentioned earlier, might have already played his last game of the season.
And yet, Medeama weren’t overwhelmed by the task at hand, offering more than enough to get themselves over the line. It’s the sort of ability — of squad depth and of quality — that could see them finally go on to win a league title, after threatening to do so in the last two, prematurely truncated seasons.