A second-half goal from Hearts of Oak star forward Daniel Afriyie made the difference as the Phobians defeated Asante Kotoko in a highly anticipated rivalry clash that could have not come at a more important time for fans of Ghanaian football. With both teams tied at the top of the Ghana Premier League table heading into the encounter, the victory was massive for Hearts with the three points moving them ahead with only three matches left to play.
Asante Kotoko put out a defensive minded lineup and played with caution, opting to attempt to keep the match low scoring and increase the pressure on hosts Hearts. For a large portion of the match the strategy worked because Hearts were in a similar mindset and only pushed forward more as the match progressed.
In the first half each team had a couple of looks, with Daniel Afriyie being denied from close range by a defensive block while captain Fatawu Mohammed surged down the right flank for the hosts and saw his cross/shot rebound off the post. For Kotoko, Patrick Asmah had an ambitious free kick effort parried wide of the post by Hearts keeper Richard Attah and at the end of the opening half, captain Emmanuel Gyamfi’s dangerous cross was miskicked out of danger by the Hearts defense but could have gone anywhere.
After halftime the little threat Kotoko posed to the Hearts goal began to evaporate with Hearts of Oak showing less caution to venture forward more. Ibrahim Salifu had a couple of shots early in the second period, the first being well handled by Kotoko keeper Kwame Baah and the second being well blocked by a lunging challenge from 19-year-old center defender Kwadwo Appau, who was a standout for Kotoko in only his fourth appearance for the Porcupine Warriors.
The Kotoko defense bent and finally broke in the 66th minute with Hearts taking the lead. A ball chipped into the Kotoko box was flicked on and Ismail Ganiyu did well to get a defensive touch to send the ball out to just beyond the edge of the penalty area. Hearts’ Frederick Ansah collected the ball and lashed a low effort that towards the goal that became a perfect pass, finding Afriyie 7 yards from goal who hit the pass first time while turning and overwhelming Baah for the goal.
Kotoko attempted to get back in the match with attacking substitutions but outside of a couple of half chances, Brazilian playmaker Fabio Gama and the Porcupine Warriors attack could not generate much of a threat. Hearts of Oak ran out the deserved winners and now will need a serious slip up in their final games to fail to win the league title. Highlights of the match are below.