Relegation: the reality check Hearts of Oak need

And so it comes down to this: one game.

It is, of course, not the first time in living memory that Accra Hearts of Oak have found themselves flirting so perilously with the prospect of relegation. Back in 2015, Hearts finished just above the drop, tied on points (40) with the best of that season's demoted teams (Heart of Lions).

But they went into their final game of the campaign with no sense of jeopardy at all, cushioned by the three points they'd picked off rivals Asante Kotoko courtesy of a boardroom decision (which would eventually be reversed).

This time, though, there is nothing propping them up — nothing but faint, unfounded hopes.

Hearts, after a season of significant lows and one false start too many, go into the last of their 34 matches, away to Bechem United, knowing anything less than all three points would likely see them lose their proud record of being one of just two original members of Ghana's elite division never to taste lower-tier football (Kotoko are the only other).

Dreams FC may be just behind in 15th place, but they do have a game in hand and, thus, a less precarious task of securing survival. City rivals Accra Great Olympics are the only team in the relegation zone not yet actually relegated, but they play already-sunken Real Tamale United at home and can feel reasonably — if not necessarily — confident of doing what must be done, after holding Hearts to a draw last weekend.

The Phobians, then, would have it all to do against Bechem United, a team notoriously hard to beat on their own turf. The Hunters have only lost four home games across the last four seasons, and are unbeaten at the Nana Fosu Gyeabour Park since regional neighbours Nsoatreman snatched a 1-0 win in February this year.

It is, however, not a ground where Hearts have never won. An Ibrahim Salifu goal got them victory there en route to winning their last league title three years ago, and it is not an impossibility that Hearts pull off an encore — only that the odds of that happening are definitely not in favour of a team which appears as out-of-sorts as Hearts currently are.

Perhaps, though, it would be in the club's best interests that they fail in the quest for survival.

The warning signs have flashed for the best part of the last decade, given just how incompetently its affairs, from the hiring (and firing) of managers to player recruitment and everything in-between and even beyond, have been handled over the years.

The aforementioned league triumph ended a 12-year run without major silverware, but any ambitions that such success would prove the dawn of a fresh trophy-laden era have been quashed almost as soon as they grew.

There are strides being made away from the pitch, in terms of infrastructure — a new secretariat is shaping up while the long-awaited sports complex is also coming along nicely — as well as administratively, following the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board of Directors to run the club, but that matters little to supporters whose primary concern are results.

Theirs has been the heartache of watching Hearts lurch from one embarrassing display to another, to the point where they're now on a ledge, just one more slip from hitting rock-bottom. It is unlikely, though, that any lessons would be learned unless the absolute worst happens. Getting off the hook one more time would only strengthen the feeling that Hearts, regardless of how poorly they do, can always find a way out — that they are, somehow, immune to the natural consequences of consistently doing things wrong.

The club prides itself on “never saying die until [its] bones are rotten”, yet it is hard to argue against any claim that such a point of decay has already been reached, if not passed. 

Hopefully, Bechem would be able to deliver that final, decisive blow to the legendary, once-revered, 113-year-old “oak tree” come Sunday.

It would, when you think of it, be an act of mercy.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.