‘SUPER CLASH’: Though Far Apart, Hearts & Kotoko Remain Bound in Rivalry
How times have changed!
Not quite eight months ago, the last meeting between Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko had an entirely different theme. It was, as always, billed as a must-win, but with the victors dealing a potentially decisive blow to the other team’s chances of winning the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League (GPL) title as the season-long race neared the finish line.
Hearts dealt that blow, a stinging upper-cut from young forward Daniel Afriyie Barnieh sealing a deserved triumph. Kotoko didn’t really turn up for the occasion — and, indeed, for the remainder of the season — ultimately conceding the prize to their archrivals.
Sixteen games into their title defence this term, Hearts are all over the place. They haven’t yet sustained any momentum and are struggling to string results together. Hearts have only won six times, and even if they’ve been pretty tight at the back (only one team has conceded fewer goals), they haven’t been quite as effective in other areas of the pitch.
The departure of some starters from last year’s Double-winning group — midfielders Benjamin Afutu Kotey and Emmanuel Nettey, especially — has turned what was arguably the league’s most settled lineup into an experiment whose parts and pieces are chopped and changed from week to week.
Last Sunday, away to Real Tamale United (RTU), Boadu made as many as seven alterations to the starting XI that lost on the preceding matchday to city rivals Accra Great Olympics; all that tweaking yielded a solitary point which, though appreciable (considering the extents Hearts had to go, literally, for it), was almost pointless in the context of their present circumstances.
Given that Hearts’ next game — with which they wrap up a torrid first half of the season — sees them host Kotoko on Sunday, a more convincing result in Tamale would have done much more to boost morale. And against this version of Kotoko — resurgent, relentless, rapacious — Hearts would need all the morale they can muster.
The Porcupine Warriors have a new head coach now, the admirably cerebral Dr. Prosper Narteh Ogum, and they look a transformed team. They’re defending just as well as Hearts but are scoring with far more ease — red-hot Cameroonian striker Franck Etouga Mbella doing much of that — and that’s why they are a dozen points ahead and on course to claim the title they missed out on last season.
There remains, though, the Phobian test, which this team must face and pass to prove it has truly arrived. Kotoko don’t really need to win, in truth, but they certainly have to — if you know what I mean.
For Hearts, however, winning is as much a need-to as it is a have-to. They’d still be nine points behind Kotoko, even if things go their way this weekend, but such an outcome could ignite a campaign that hasn’t really kicked into gear. It would get them to believe once more; to believe that, even if their crown is already slipping, some sort of success could yet be made of this season.
And nobody would want that more than Samuel Boadu, the Hearts head coach who has so quickly gone from being beloved to being beleaguered.
Depending on who you ask, Boadu won’t last much longer at Hearts if he fails to meet expectations against Kotoko, as he doesn’t have too much goodwill left in the bank. Victory, last time out, set Boadu on his way to making history as an all-time Hearts great; victory, this time around, would at least keep him in a job.
Oh, how times have changed!
This ‘Super Clash’ wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it as the last — the two clubs are too far apart now to generate that much electricity — but you can expect it to be no less keenly contested.
The gulf in fortunes that currently exists between these rivals?