Sports Features of Friday, 17 July 2009
Source: Dornu-Leiku, Prince
Asks Prince Dornu-Leiku
5 points from the last possible 27, no wins during the dreadful run, all of which clearly is relegation-bound form but Hearts of Oak are top of the Premier League with just a game to go. A dreadful run which has also witnessed a switch of coaches by the Phobians but they never lost the lead, not even once. Many Kotoko supporters thought they had overtaken the Phobians by virtue of goal difference when they eventually caught up with the bitter rivals on 48 points apiece after match day 28. But alas a new legislation by the GFA and the PLB last year in respect of the head-to-head system to decide between two sides who tie up on the same points, meant Hearts still had the lead.
But not even the most astute bet man could have gambled on Hearts of Oak retaining the top spot without a win again in their next game. No. Not even the most fanatic of Hearts of Oak supporters. Certainly not them, knowing too well the slump of form which their club has been engulfed in. Fans whose disgraceful pitch invasion and rowdy behavior after the draw against Bechem Chelsea should be condemned outright. But it happened that Kumasi Asante Kotoko, not only the side which would have taken advantage of any Hearts slip-up to claim top spot just ahead of the final match day, but also their eternal rivals faced regional rivals Ashantigold in Obuasi next on their itinerary. Ashgold had on many an occasion deflated Kotoko’s league ambitions with authoritative results in the Len Clay backyard. The stakes were this time higher though for Ashantigold. The Aboakese lads are experiencing a very bad season and even victory over Kotoko will not assuage their fight against the drop so Ashgold needed to win. And win they did, doing so with some panache coming from a goal down to beat Kotoko 2-1 and throw the Glo Premier League title race wide open again. You would think Hearts of Oak will take full advantage with a win that will cement their 20th league title but the leaders also faced a tricky duel away in Berekum at a Golden City Park where the hosts are always revered no matter the opposition. And certainly not this Heart of Oak side. Hearts did take the lead, but as they have done in all of their three previous home games, relinquished it at the end of the day. 1-1 it ended as indeed in all those three games at the Ohene Djan.
Yet still Kotoko’s failure to gain any points in Obuasi meant the point garnered by Hearts in Berekum was enough to see them move at least a point clear at the top. So now all they need to do is beat already relegated Sporting Mirren on Sunday at their favourite Ohene Djan Stadium and the Glo Premier League title will be Hearts of Oak’s again. Mirren who also lost at home to Chelsea just last Sunday, have already lost to Hearts back on the opening day in November and are certainly no match for the League leaders. The two sides also not only use the Ohene Djan Stadium for their home games, Hearts and Mirren train side by side at the Ajax Park on the University of Ghana campus in Legon. So is it a done deal for Hearts and can there be no denying them their 20th league title come Sunday? Who can bet against them? I can tell you that were I a betting man, I will certainly place one in favour of a 1-1 draw between Hearts of Oak and Sporting Mirren. It is going to be the same scenario; Hearts score first then let in the equaliser. That is just what I believe will happen and there is no point explaining if we all know what has repeatedly happened in their last three matches in Accra. Just last week, I was right there at the Ohene Djan when Hearts took the lead against Chelsea before their fans suddenly remembered that they had to make noise to cheer on their team. I told colleagues around to take note because those fans will recoil into their quiet shells when Chelsea equalises. The Bechem lads did equalise and Ohene Djan duly went dead quiet.
But you know what? I will not bet. And certainly not against Hearts of Oak winning the league title in itself. Because they can still garner just a point or even lose on Sunday and still become champions. Who knows the emotional repercussions on Kotoko’s players following the ego-deflating loss to Ashantigold and whether or not they will be up for the fight against city rivals King Faisal come Sunday? I was right there on the pitch at the Baba Yara back on the opening Match day of this season witnessing the goalless stalemate between the two sides. It is very hard to rule out a similar result this Sunday. It is Heart of Lions who lay in waiting for any Kotoko slip-up to shoot up to second and thus secure successive CAF Champions league qualifications. Lions didn’t do themselves any good in that struggle with their 1-2 succumb to Kessben FC in Kumasi last Sunday which means, like King Faisal, Lions have also bowed out of the race for the league title. Being already out of reckoning against Hearts of Oak via the head-to-head classification, the Lions of Kpando cannot win the league title even if both Hearts and Kotoko fail to win and thus can’t garner more than the 49 points Lions will move unto if they beat Arsenals on Sunday. But trust the Kpando lads to secure the win and pray for a possible Kotoko loss to Faisal, the only way they can secure the second Champions’ League qualification slot.
Had they gained just one win in the last two games, King Faisal would have been right there in the fight for the league title but Alhaji Gruzah’s men can now afford not to turn up at all for Sunday’s final act of the season, and remain assured of their Top 4 place and qualification to next season’s CAF Confederations Cup. So are they going to give victory to Kotoko without any fight? Never forget that any victory by Faisal will help them climb above Kotoko head-to-head no matter the final placings of the Hearts of Lions and Oak. Meanwhile 5th spot Chelsea, 6th Tema Youth, 7th All Stars and 8th Kessben FC can all sleep soundly and refuse to be bothered on their final games of the season because they know they can neither get into the top 4 nor drop into any relegation troubles. But the remaining 7 sides below them who are above already relegated Sporting Mirren cannot be too sure unless they can rescue their own sinking ship. Liberty Professionals and Berekum Arsenals share 9th and 10th spots on 38 points and are almost assured of staying up but with second from bottom RTU possibly amassing a total of 38 points in the end, Liberty know they have to gain at least a point in Bechem with Arsenal also on the same mission in Kpando.
But RTU have to beat none other than Ashantigold to improve the chances for survival knowing too well that it will not be easy against the side which beat Kotoko just last time around. Ashantigold, the first club to be hailed as a truly professional outfit in the Ghanaian league, gained that fame not for nothing. Then known as Goldfields, the Aboakese lads won the first three of the professional league in Ghana between 1994 and 1996 and also reached the maiden final of the modern African Champions’ League. But that is now almost in the remote past as Ashatigold look almost certain to finally get relegated from the Ghanaian top flight unless they can withstand the fury of the Real Tamale United in Tamale. There can be no doubt whatsoever that the topliner of the final match day lay in the Northern Regional capital.
For neutrals like myself, I have no doubt whatsoever that our top flight league needs both Ashantigold and RTU. The Tamale side has for ages remained the pride of Northern Ghana in football and even the entry of Wa All Stars cannot be any excuse for RTU to finally go down and hand over the baton. The arrival of All Stars must be commended and improved upon so that within a few years, a third club can also emerge from Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region for example. But whether it is mismanagement or a lack of appropriate funding and poor player recruitment, from the side which came as close as losing the 1997 Premier League title race to Hearts of Oak only on goal difference, RTU find themselves in a quagmire where even gaining all three points on Sunday cannot be enough if other results don’t go their way.
Ashantigold on their part have also slid down and despite occasionally ending season after season in the safety of mid-table mediocrity, the team from the gold mining town of Obuasi have come close to relegation trouble in recent years. We all remember too well when the league’s relegation schedule was revised some few seasons ago to enable a third from bottom Ashantigold to engage the third best first division side in a play-off and secure the victory with which they survived the drop. Well Ashantigold are back there again and what we know is that should they finish third from bottom after Sunday, they will go down, no play-offs. Bottom three of Premier League go down, top three of Division One League come up.
As well as Ashantigold, All Blacks and the two Sekondi sides of Eleven Wise and Hasaacas all have 37 points and must all win on Sunday to avoid relegation knowing too well that even a win may not be enough. All Blacks, which only beat Wise in their re-scheduled game last Wednesday to move off second from bottom, can complete the miraculous escape if they can beat Tema Youth. Though Youth have nothing to play for on Sunday, All Blacks will have to do it in Tema which is no easy task. Hasacaas also have to do it away from home and theirs is so far away from home as they trek to Wa where All Stars, another side not playing for any glory, wait. Hasmal have also experienced a tough season and but for the authoritative 3-1 win over RTU in Essipong last Sunday, may have already joined Mirren in relegation. Now they live to fight and that is what they just have to do in the Upper West Region to retain their top flight status. Hasaacas’ city rivals Wise have the easiest of tasks, beat Kessben FC at their favoured Essipong turf and Wise would have shown that they really do not despair. The psychological effects of losing the revered President’s Cup to Hearts of Oak via the lottery of penalty shoot-outs cannot be crueller than getting relegated at the end of their rookie season back into the top flight of Ghana football. C K Akunnor’s lads will have no excuses if they fail to garner the needed points for survival against a side which will only turn up at Essipong for the records.
To conclude, I must point out that Ghanaians must take pride in the 2008/09 league season. It is entering the final match day with uncertainty on who will emerge winners, even if it is reduced to a battle between you-know-which two clubs. The bottom and the fight against relegation cannot be tighter with not less than seven clubs not entirely sure which two of them will join the relegated Sporting Mirren.
Mirren have gone down but as their coach, the great Emmanuel Kwesi Afranie has been trumpeting this week, they will not go down until they have been hailed as the kingmakers. Whether that is another verbal repertoire by a football coach or real determination, it should be an enough warning for the misfiring and 1-1 draw prone Hearts of Oak. For as I have told you, I will bet for 1-1 as the final result at the Ohene Djan at the end of the day on Sunday. So now let’s see if Eric Gawu, Acquah Harrison, Charles Taylor and the remaining Hearts players who are led by a 17 year old called Tawrik Djibril can prove me wrong. Tawrik certainly is a star for the future and there can be no doubt that he will earn the young player, discovery and most promising star awards when the various prizes are paraded by the end of the year. For now until Sunday however, the big question remains; who can bet against Hearts of Oak?