You could call it any name, but the amount of bravery displayed by Coach David Duncan in that test case of taking over from his colleague C.K. Akonnor within a period of one week to the day the century-old Accra Hearts of Oak were to face their bitterest rivals, fabulous Kumasi Asante Kotoko, in Kumasi for the first round of this year’s Glo Premier League could only be described as “mission impossible”.
Many a light-hearted coach might have turned down the appointment, looking at the present poor performance of the team he was going to handle and the immediate dangerous rivals the team was going to fight against.
Of course, as he later said, that was not the first time the Phobians were going to invade Kumasi with a team that was in virtual disarray, a team that was losing matches as if it was nobody’s business.
Reports that the Phobian followers were responsible for the firing of Coach Akonnor in lieu of the fear for the impending assignment made the task extremely dicey.
In other words, as has happened on several occasions between the two sides, failure to succeed amounted to imminent parking of the coach’s bag and baggage from the camp.
A man with fantastic experience like Duncan was not scared by such funny pranks.
Yes, he accepted the task, went out there to train his team, selected his men, briefed and motivated them and threw them onto the field in Kumasi against a team that could boast of seasoned stars who could easily turn defeat into victory.
Kotoko had a recent track record of invading Tarkwa to discipline the unbeatable Medeama SC at a time they were coasting for the league title, and staying firmly on top.
Fans predicted a total massacre of Hearts in Kumasi last Sunday, others did not see why Kotoko could not seek revenge for the domineering 4-0 whacking they received in Accra a decade ago at the hands of Hearts.
The airwaves were full of Kotoko’s victory over Hearts.
Indeed, it reminded me of the days Hearts returned from an African championship assignment in Angola in the 80s with stories of missing hotel blankets and towels and their immediate assignment on arrival was a match against Kotoko in Kumasi.
I was in Kumasi that day to witness how Kotoko fans entered the stadium in big blankets and towels to taunt and tease Hearts into defeat. But a brave team like Hearts couldn’t be intimidated. They beat Kotoko 1-0 that day, and the scorer of that goal was Ezekiel Alamu.
Last Sunday, the ball started flowing for Hearts but their inspirer, Laryea Kingston, had a nasty high boot that crashed his face on the quarter-hour mark, but surprisingly referee John Atikese did not see that as a bookable offence to caution the player and the team against such dangerous tackles. It was followed by a deliberate elbowing and the rest.
Coach Duncan saw it all and urged his men on till the 74th minute mark when one of his midfielders, Alhassan Ali, was shown a red card for a second bookable offence.
But that was Hearts whose track record showed that at one stage they beat Kotoko in Kumasi with nine men! This time, Kotoko took full advantage of Hearts’ numerical weakness to press for goals that just couldn’t come, with Tetteh Luggard in the posts. That young goalkeeper was later declared the “player of the day”.
I must have cause to to say kudos to Coach David Duncan for his boldness and tenacity of purpose. Coaches have their occupational hazzards, but in crisis like this it needed a man lilke Duncan to give it an academic touch as he is an academia himself.
Hearts are still in danger zone on the league table, and that requires a better drill to face the challenges. Their defeats and draws are simply becoming too much for a team of their calibre, but it shows how remarkable the Glo Premier League is progressing.
Duncan has had a bright start, but that must not go into his head to think that the smaller teams will give his side a respite. Last Sunday’s draw only saved his image. But Hearts are far from the championship stuff they were some 12 years ago, and one wonders whether the problem is with only the technical staff, management or the fans.
The “El-classico was a fantastic success, but let me quickly say that the riots that erupted in the stands spoilt the day!
Article by Nana Ampomah