Isaac Mensah’s headed effort salvaged three points for Accra Hearts of Oak as they laboured to a 1-0 win over Medeama in an uninspiring Ghana Premier League matchweek 23 fixture on Saturday.
Playing in front of an expectant home crowd at the Accra Sports Stadium, Mensah’s goal served as a reprieve for the catalogue of goal-scoring opportunities that was squandered by the home side with two-goal line clearances by Medeama defender, Vincent Atingah also denying the Phobians.
Clear signs of fatigue from the mid-week league games were manifested on both sides as the game lacked the intensity, excitement and drama that this clash was accustomed to; in its place, jitteriness, clumsy mistakes and poor finishing was in full sight.
Hearts braved the seemingly difficult scenes to clinch victory as they appeared the more motivated side. Certainly, a wobbling title defence, a goalless stalemate against Berekum Chelsea in their previous outing and a date with arch-rivals Asante Kotoko at the Baba Yara on Sunday – required a win to rally their fanbase ahead of the Kotoko game.
It was also to signal that they were still title contenders despite lying sixth on 36 points, 10 points adrift of league leaders Kotoko.
Hearts made their intentions of netting early to unsettle the visitors obvious from the opening exchanges. With veteran Sulley Muntari out of the match-day team, Gladson Awako took his place to provide that creative spark to unravel Medeama’s defence.
In the 11th minute, Medeama’s goalie, Kamil Anaba, stayed alert to avert a dangerous situation after a lofted ball by Hearts’ captain Fatawu Mohammed was pounced on by Agyenim Boateng. After initially punching Agyenim’s strike at goal, Anaba had to react quickly to prevent Daniel Afriyie Barnieh from following up.
That moment seemed to have lifted the spirit of the home side as they began in earnest to break Medeama’s resistance with Agyenim Boateng in the 26th minute providing a measured cross from the left to forward, but Kojo Obeng Jnr miscalculated his connection with a mild strike off target.
The best chance for Hearts in the first-half arrived in the 33rd minute when a loss of concentration by a Medeama defender gifted Hearts striker Obeng Jnr a chance to shoot them ahead, but after beating Anaba, Atingah’s timely intervention on the goal line denied Obeng Jnr a goal.
After recess, the Phobians continued in similar fashion, hunting for an early goal but chances that fell to Obeng Jnr and Afriyie Barnieh were wasted.
Finally, Hearts could not be denied in the 56th minute. The move that started with Caleb Amankwaa, who found Ushau Mohammed with Ushau putting Afriyie Barnieh through on the left side. Barnieh lifted a calculated cross to Isaac Mensah, who despite his diminutive size towered above three Medeama defenders to displace Anaba with a header for his second goal of the season.
To shore up the gain he had just made, Hearts coach Samuel Boadu withdrew goalscorer Mensah, Agyenim Boateng and Ushau for Enoch Asubonteng, Nurudeen Abdulaziz and Patrick Razak respectively.
Subsequently, Medeama’s trainer, Abdul Rabi Umar also introduced striker Justice Mensah and Fataw Sulemana for Ahmed Toure and Benjamin Abaidoo as he attempted to revive the visitors attacking threat which was non-existent for great portions of the game.
However, Hearts still remained the dominant side and but for Obeng Jnr’s goal-shy attitude, they would have won by a bigger margin. His overhead kick in the 69th minute, Atingah’s last-ditch clearance to his goal-bound shot in the 82nd minute and an off-target strike in the late stages of the game meant that the Phobians had to stick with the narrow win.
BY NANA BENTSI ODURO