The biggest clash on the domestic calendar is set to come off this weekend as Asante Kotoko play as hosts to bitter rivals Hearts of Oak on Sunday.
All roads will lead to the Baba Yara stadium in Kumasi when the biggest and oldest rivalry in Ghana football takes center stage. Both sides have seen their dominance in the Ghana Premier League and on the continent wane in recent years, however, the fixture still ranks as one of the most historic in world football.
In previous years this fixture would have been a top-of-the-table clash, however, both Kotoko and Hearts currently find themselves lagging behind Ashanti Gold, who occupy top spot.
The Porcupine Warriors go into the fixture as slight favourites, having copped an incredible home record since the season began. In five home games this season the Kumasi giants have managed three wins, a draw and a single loss – the latter which came against Medeama SC.
Hearts of Oak, on the other hand, will be approaching the game on the back of a poor run which has culminated in just a single win in their last five league games. It is a run that has seen the Phobians lose grip on the title challenge, as well as drop out of the top four.
The Accra giants have had a poor start to the campaign, punctuated by inconsistent performances that have frustrated the Hearts faithful.
However, Sunday’s game is set to pitch two ‘sleeping’ giants who have courted variant woes this season. Whiles Kotoko have been blighted by a blunt attack that has rarely tested other sides, Hearts are equally troubled by a defense that has been so charitable to opposing teams by conceding cheap goals.
The Porcupine Warriors have managed just eight goals in nine league games this season, which stands at an average 0.8 goals per game. Such a poor scoring run should come as welcoming news for Hearts whose defense has been utterly shambolic this season.
In nine games the Phobians have kept just two clean sheets – against Ebusua Dwarfs and Dreams FC – and have conceded a whopping 14 goals in the process. It is a record that ranks the Phobians as the side to have conceded the most goals in the GPL after nine rounds of matches.
Hearts have no major injury problems going into Sunday’s game, however, for Kotoko, Saddick Adams and Kwame Boahen will have to pass late tests to prove their fitness.
Deputy Hearts coach Edward Nii Odoom has described the clash as a “defining moment” for the Phobians, insisting his side is battle ready to take on their Kumasi counterparts.
"The next game against Kotoko is of course a defining moment for us (the technical team)," Odoom said in an interview with Otec FM.
"It is however not for the coaches alone but everyone at the club. The supporters have a role to play ahead of the crucial game so we will work hard and improve on our last game against Bechem United.
"Although, we shared the spoils against Bechem, the players played well and created several goalscoring opportunities but it was unfortunate we couldn't make it count. In spite of all these, I believe we will be ready for the Kotoko game," he added.
Opposite number and assistant head coach of Kotoko, Akakpo Patron, expects a close game but believes the Porcupine Warriors have what it takes to edge their rivals.
“Both teams have gone through some inconsistent period this season but maybe, our situation might be a bit better than Hearts.
“We are not under pressure. We have to take it easy and play. I keep telling the players to recognize that the players at Hearts of Oak are no strangers and they know who their direct opponents will be.
“If I were playing, I would see the tie as any other match because I know who will play for Hearts. At the end of the day, it all depends on the mental strength and capacity. For sure, we will carry the day,” a confident Patron said.
This will be the 107th official meeting between Kotoko and Hearts, with the Porcupine Warriors triumphing 33 times, whiles the Phobians have recorded 35 wins, with 38 ending in a draw.
The game will be telecast live on StarTimes mix at 3pm. No idea station will show it.