Big games need big players, and Michael Akuffu provided one for the Super Clash on Sunday. Hearts lost to their rivals in Kumasi for the first time in seven years and the dancing from the reds at the final whistle spoke volumes.
The game was live across Africa on SuperSport 9, and it saw Kotoko well and truly secure their 22nd league title. They needed this win to “legitimize” the crown, which they had theoretically won before this game.
Maxwell Konadu orchestrated a tactical victory over his opposite number as well, despite getting outdone for a brief period.
Hearts surprisingly dominated possession, against the run of play, after key man Laryea Kingston was sent o for a dreadful challenge on Baba Abdul Rahman. Before then,Kotoko had dictated the game’s pace and were even one ahead.
A 37th minute corner on the left was met by Kofi Nti Boakye who powered it onto the turf for it to bounce into the roof of Hearts’ net for his third of the season. Up until that time, Kotoko had seemed the more purposeful from kickoff.
Daniel Nii Adjei conducted well but without fuss, and the man detailed to upstage him had a poor game. Uriah Asante got himself subbed following the realisation of the bench that keeping him on was a liability. He did not take the change kindly, as he kicked a bottle on his way to sitting down. Meanwhile, James Abban went on to take his place, but was equally marshalled by the mobile Kotoko.
Minutes after restart, purported Arsenal target took the ball on the left flank, the next thing he knew, he was writhing in pain on the turf. Laryea Kingston had cynically stamped him, and the former Black Stars player saw red immediately.
Solomon Mordey, in charge of his second Super Clash, had been firm throughout and this bold decision was taken without question. But Hearts were charged by their new disadvantageous position, with Isaac Ofori taking Kingston’s place. Soon after, Charles Akunnor made a telling sub, bringing on Mahatma Otoo for the mentally tired Attakora Gyimah.
Hearts soon looked very good in gameplay, with more verve on the wings and assured movements upfront. But still, Kotoko held resolute, with the largely dormant Awal Mohammed at the back getting new tasks to mop up.
The moment soon swung the reds’ way, again, though. Hearts goalkeeper Philemon MacCarthy needed treatment for twelve minutes following his overstretched dive to parry a Daniel Nii Adjei shot. The pain in his hurt hands proved to much and he wept as the veteran Sammy Adjei came on for him.
The former Black Stars keeper was called to work almost immediately, with two assured saves from Akuffu and Yaw Frimpong giving Kotoko the momentum again. Minutes later, Mahatma Otoo reached the end of a Hearts attack in the opposition penalty box, but Ohene Brenya’s outstretched leg caught him before he could pull the trigger.
Solomon Mordey got the decision not to award Hearts a penalty, and with Hearts’ fans roaring and throwing materials in anger, the ref soon gave a consolation freekick to make up for his error.
This was in the 92nd minute. Mahatma Otoo stood behind the ball, just outside the Kotoko vital area. Mordey whistled and Otoo blasted the ball against the Kotoko woodwork on its way past a hapless Soulama Abdoulaye in goal. Hearts were level.
But the Baba Yara Stadium was to see a grandstand finale. Kotoko passed the ball from the centre, and seven moves later the ball reached Michael Akuffu. Just like much of the game, he was given acres of space to line up a shot from 30 yards. His shot was true and straight as he unleashed a rising ball past Sammy Adjei.
That shot made it 2-1 to Kotoko, and as it was virtually the last kick of the game, the reds sealed a memorable first win in seven years against their rivals. And in the process, they cemented another league title. It does not come better for the Fabulous faithfuls.