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Football | Ghana

Hearts of Oak © Action Images

Hearts' chase cure before window closes

Accra Hearts of Oak are in trouble, and this statement is not in any way subjective. With only one match to end the first round of the ongoing Glo Premier League, the 19 time champions are in the relegation zone (14th), with 14 points, only 9 points ahead of bottom club RTU.

Fiifi Anaman says their form this season has been a reflection of their performance in 2012 as a calendar year, where they have failed to win 24 of the 34 matches they’ve played in.

The Phobians have had a torrid first round to say the least. After a lukewarm campaign last season, which saw Charles 'CK' Akonnor replacing Serbian trainer Nebojsa Vucicevic in the second round, Hearts went on to perform well enough in the latter stages of last season to make fans believe that this season was going to be one of reinvention and effectiveness.

But their hopes caved in very early on this campaign, when a loss to away to Dwarfs kick started a run of three consecutive losses, culminating in the sacking of CK Akonnor, barely 6 months after he took charge. Akonnor had been in charge for 18 games, winning seven, drawing three and losing eight.

‘Mourinho’ comes to town

Former AshGold boss David “Mourinho” Duncan took over, his first game coming just a few days after his appointment, against none other than arch rivals Kumasi Asante Kotoko in Kumasi. The game ended goalless, with Hearts putting up one of the best defensive displays in the Premier League so far. That, considering their struggles hitherto, was an encouraging ‘new dawn’.

Snatching appoint from Kotoko after they had been completely outplayed was something they could draw positives from, in their quest to restart the season, so to speak. Fans at that point, especially the pro Akonnor ones, were beginning to, either consciously or unconsciously, warm up to Duncan.

He had barely trained with the boys, yet he managed to bring out extreme commitment and desire out of the players on that sunny afternoon in Kumasi.

Fans couldn’t wait for the next game. Laryea Kingston, who that day had put in a man of the match performance, said before the game that there was “a smooth harmony growing in camp”. That was perhaps due to the usual excitement that characterizes new beginnings. At that point, Hearts fans were daring to dream.

And with Duncan being one of the best contemporary tacticians in the country, the feeling of resurgence was ripe. The next week, they won their first game in 5 matches, beating Liberty Professionals 2-0 in Accra. Duncan was hitting the right notes. Hearts were recovering from the early season set backs pretty fast.

The next game after the win against Liberty was against Amidaus Professionals in Tema. Robin Gnagne had to score his second penalty in two games in the 76th minute to save Hearts from losing to a Yahaya Mohamed inspired Amidaus.

The game ended 2-2, a valuable point gained from a tough away fixture. Fans were expecting a home win on the next match day. AshGold, who had lost their previous three consecutive matches, were coming to town. Surely, a win, surely.

One loss, domino effect

But they lost.

Quite unexpectedly, but yes, they did. Aaron Amoah’s sole goal at the Accra Sports Stadium did the trick. A set-back. But fans believed a recovery was in order. Duncan would fix things, they reckoned.

Little did they know that that loss was to be the start of a run that would see them go four games without a single win. They lost again to Hearts of Lions 2-0 in Kpando, and drew with Aduana Stars 1-1 in Accra.

A disappointing 2-2 draw at Berekum to Arsenals followed. Draws, losses, and more draws. It was disappointment galore all over again.

Inevitably, talks of Duncan possibly being their second managerial casualty even before the first round closes became high. Despite being only in charge for 7 games, results were abysmal, and were not any different from what cost Akonnor his job.

Just last Sunday, Hearts ended 2012 with yet another loss, and at home. Medeama SC came all the way from Tarkwa to steal three points from right under their noses.

Duncan feeling the heat very early

Duncan’s record stands at one win, three losses and three draws, meaning 6 points from a possible 21. 28%. Bad.

The “smooth harmony” sublimed into thin air, whilst the resurgence that seemed so genuine after the win against Liberty proved to be a nine day wonder.

Interestingly, Hearts have the highest number of goals in this season’s top flight (23). Skipper and lead marksman Mahatmaa Otoo alone has scored seven. They have scored in all but just three games this season.

Heart’s problem, unlike Kotoko’s, is most certainly not a goal scoring problem. So what is it?

Coach Duncan, probably the best person in the position to diagnose their problems, blames it on the quality of players: "Talking about the typical Hearts of Oak materials, you will say they (players) don’t make the cut," coach Duncan told ghanafa.org.

"We all started the league from ground zero so it perhaps down to the quality that was recruited."

With the second transfer window of the league currently open, Duncan is looking to move on some players bought by his predecessor who ‘do not make the cut’ and buy his own ‘materials’.

He has made it quite clear, even though many people think it’s just a defense mechanism, that the lack of quality in the squad is compromising his efforts.

Whilst the impression that it’s not fair to judge him on the performance of players he did not bring in makes a lot of sense, some fans are of the view that the players have hit an all time low confidence wise, and he, as a manager, is failing to rekindle it.

Salvation still very much a possibility

Whilst the situation looks like an inescapable quagmire, Hearts are very much in with a chance of making something of their thus far disastrous season in the second round. AshGold proved it last season, when they rose from the relegation (similarly in 14th place) zone to finish second.

Either ways, he might end up being another victim of the impatience of the Hearts board should Hearts continue to flirt with relegation. The fans and management could not care less about the circumstances as they certainly will be overshadowed by results as the basic yardstick in evaluating his tenure.

More so, fans are hoping he’s right about turning things around once he finally has access to a team built to his specifications. In fact, he hopes he’s right himself.


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