Atinga settles day for Hearts

Atinga with (bandaged head) is joined by his colleagues in celebrating the goal against Kotoko. Photo: Seth Osabukle.

Atinga with (bandaged head) is joined by his colleagues in celebrating the goal against Kotoko. Photo: Seth Osabukle.

An 84th minute penalty expertly converted by defender Vincent Atinga enabled Accra Hearts of Oak to beat Kumasi Asante Kotoko  in their excitingly crunch  Premier League tie at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Yesterday’s nerve-jangling dramatic win – the third by Hearts in the eight-old season, also halted Kotoko’s eight-year stranglehold on them in Accra – to spark a rambling celebration that would certainly dive deep into the night.

But whilst Hearts fans cart-wheeled in celebration of a hard-fought win, their rival contingent launched a series of missiles onto the pitch in an apparent protest to a penalty they may have perceived as unreasonable.

It was a disconcerting sight to behold, especially when similar scenes in a match between them culminated in the blood-clotting May 9, 2001 disaster, where more than 120 fans were crushed to death in a stampede.

The disputed spot-kick yesterday was the result of shot fired by Hearts Sam Yeboah that seemed to have crashed off the arm of Awudu Nafia.  Without hesitation, Referee Samuel Sukker signaled for a penalty that met a fierce protest from Kotoko.  But the referee stuck to his gun.

Ahead of the afternoon, supporters of the two Gullivers of Ghana football had taunted each other with each claiming to wield the bragging rights in their 104th meeting.

Generally, Kotoko were the better team – especially in the opening half where Michael Akuffo’s delicate free-kick just sailed wide. Indeed, in the periods when they were not dominant, they had mighty men at the rear to come to their rescue.

Hearts’ Scottish trainer Frank Nutall may have been surprised by his opponents’ levels of energy in the first stanza of misplaced passes here and there by the two teams. With the teams scoreless after 45 minutes, Nutall introduced Patrick Razak for Daniel Kodie and his first involvement resulted in Ivorian import Alexandre Kouassi thumping the side net.

Kotoko Croatian trainer, Zdravko Lugarusic, also brought on the skilful Baba Mahama for Frank Sarfo in the 68th minute, but it was Hearts who seemed to have benefited for the tactical switch as they pressed the Porcupine Warriors for the opener.

With Malik Akuwuah’s speedy prompting in midfield evergreen, the home team continued to control the game until the contentious handball.

After a brief protest, Atinga – who was adjudged man-of-the-match, crashed home past goalkeeper Felix Annan. But Kotoko would stage a stormy finish that met a resolute Hearts contingent who clung on ferociously to their lead.

Nutall, tasked with the responsibility of restructuring the club into a formidable and winsome side in the coming years, would be happy with the victory, knowing that he broke the ‘stygian silence’ that has haunted Hearts for eight years.



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