The Ghana Premier League has delivered nothing but suspense with every point needing to be earned in a competitive field, and this past weekend featured some of the most thrilling action of the season courtesy of rivalry matches. By the end of Sunday’s action, only more anticipation was created for the final stretch of the season as traditional giants Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak are now tied at the top on 50 points.
Opening up the action on Sunday was the Ashanti Derby between the Porcupine Warriors of Asante Kotoko and Ashanti Gold. AshGold have displayed some attractive football this season but the results have not gone their way, and a 1-0 defeat saw them drop down to 11th on the league table. Kotoko prodded for openings in the first half as Brazilian playmaker Fabio Gama gradually imposed his influence more and more.
Gama made the difference in an unlikely fashion for the diminutive midfielder by heading a 23rd minute pinpoint cross from Patrick Asmah. It was a rocket of a header that was created by the brilliance of Asmah’s whipped in service, Gama only needing to flick the ball on with the pace created for him. AshGold made a furious push after the halftime break but lost their nerve at crucial moments, failing to find an equalizer in a match that was reflective of their season.
In the capital, the Accra Sports Stadium was crammed full of enthusiastic support as well as Chelsea star Callum Hudson-Odoi for both of the city’s top teams, Great Olympics and Hearts of Oak. The derby match more than delivered the goods and was a wildly entertaining affair for the neutral fan while being filled with highs and lows for each team’s supporters. After a sluggish start, Hearts asserted themselves and started to control the match by the time the halftime whistle came with the match scoreless.
A notable first half incident was when Hearts midfielder Isaac Mensah unleashed a cracking and looping effort from 35 yards out that went off the crossbar and bounced out. Television replays showed the ball appearing to bounce just over the goal line before bouncing out, but the referee and linesman did not see it, leaving Phobians fans enraged.
The second half was where the real fun and suspense began. In the 51st minute Ibrahim Salifu put in a Hearts corner kick that was cleared out to the edge of the area only for Emmanuel Nettey to unleash a stunning blast into the roof of the net that brought the house down and caused pandemonium among Phobians fans. It was truly a world class strike that came after Olympics keeper Benjamin Asare injured his ankle attempting to make a play on the corner kick, resulting in a forced goalkeeper substitution.
Backup keeper Stephen Kwaku, only making his 4th appearance of the season, did brilliantly to keep Olympics in the match with several brilliant saves as Hearts threatened to run away with the result. Kwaku could be credited for inspiring his teammates because despite the stunning opener, Olympics clawed their way back into contention and finally started to generate a few attacks of their own. In the 72nd minute the reward came for Great Olympics for not going away when Kwabena Boateng got free on the right flank and put in an excellent cross. Leading scorer Maxwell Abbey Quaye snuck in with a clever run and did brilliantly to direct his bouncing header past Hearts keeper Richard Attah, Quaye’ 8th goal of the season.
Hearts attempted to find another goal but Kwaku was stubborn in the Olympics goal and the league leaders were forced to share the points on the day. The atmosphere was feverish and truly worthy of a derby match and the quality suspense that the Ghana Premier League has created this season. Highlights from both of Sunday’s derby matches are below.