The narrative that Hearts-Kotoko games do not depend on form has been consistent. Often in the build up to games between the two sides, it has been the side reeling from a poor run that has sang that tune the most.
It is no surprise then that, that has been the mantra of most Kotoko fans, officials and ex-players in the build up to their crunch meeting with Hearts of Oak on Monday.
It is easy to see why. This season has been a tale of two completely different fortunes. Hearts have played with verve, energy and belief. Kotoko has stuttered, looked unsure and poor for large parts. They seem to take two steps forward, one back. Their eternal rivals meanwhile seem to waltz through one controversy after the other without ever allowing it to remotely affect them on the field of play.
So last weekend, Hearts went to AshantiGold and won for the first time in nine years. The game was set in the background of reports that Kenichi Yatsuhashi was about to lose his job. He was called childish by the club’s chief executive Vincent Odotei for publicly scolding them over attempting to pay his salary while they owed the players. Kenichi used his post match press conference against WAFA to insist he stood by every word he had posted on facebook. And amidst all the chaos, he still took his side to a venue they normally lose and delivered a masterclass.
That same weekend, Kotoko were in Kumasi with the firm conviction that their season had finally taken off. The Porcupine Warriors had won a first away game of the season away at Dreams FC, their second straight in the league and their third if you add the FA Cup win in Tumu. They had momentum, they had drive but they came crushing against New Edubiase.
The seven-point gap that the contrasting result has created speaks of a gulf in form between the two sides and for Kotoko fans it doesn’t make for great reading.
Hearts have faced and triumphed over adversity this season. They went to Inter Allies and recovered from a 2-0 reverse. They travelled to Tarkwa and beat Medeama when everyone expected them to lose. Wa Al Stars came to Accra and deservedly won. It caused a blip with draws against WAFA and Techiman City suggesting a club that was struggling to hold it’s own together. Then came that blistering win in Obuasi.
When you measure that against Kotoko’s form, there is no denying who goes into Monday’s game with the right kind of momentum. Kotoko have lost four times this season including three on the road. In a sense, a Kotoko fixture away from home has become bonus for this who bet on games.
Kotoko proved that they can find some form as they did against Dreams FC but that was as much about experience triumphing as anything. The club was reeling from too many punches and like the old experienced boxer, they found the strength to land one deadly knockout.
The small opening that most Kotoko fans have been happy to exploit is this thinking that in games against Wa All Stars and WAFA, Hearts have showed a great deal of vulnerability. That is true but All Stars are the form team of the league and on a good pitch, the WAFA side that beat Kotoko on the opening day can get a result.
If there is anything that this season has showed us, it is that the Hearts of Oak side that escaped relegation narrowly last season is a vastly improved entity. It is also a stronger entity in the mind. And those are the two fronts on which Monday’s fascinatingcontest will be fought.
It will be a game played purely along the lines of form. And granted that may not be enough, this is a Hearts side with mental strength to spare too.
In fact Hearts have both in abundance. Recent history too at least suggest FORM does matter. One of the greatest Hearts of Oak sides we have seen was the one that we nicknamed 64 Infantry Batallion. They were the masters of their craft by a mile. Ishmael Addo, Osei Kuffour, Charles Taylor supported by the Jacob Nettey and Sammy Adjei at the back. They beat Kotoko 4-0. That was form talking.
On that painful, wrecthed night of May 9 2001, the events on the pitch was form talking too. Is it by coincidence that Kotoko have dominated recent games between the two sides in the last five years in a period when they have also been the best side in Ghana football on account of their three league titles in the league?
The good old, wise voice of football in Ghana, Kwabena Yeboah tells the story of how Hearts struggled against Kotoko between 1980-1985 when the likes of Opoku Nti and Kwasi Appiah had helped make Kotoko a strong unit in Africa. He also tells of how during the era of the Fearsome Fivesome, Hearts bossed those games.
Form has not mattered in Hearts-Kotoko games when the gulf between the two sides has not been anything profound. You could argue the gulf now is nothing profound. And by extension you could argue it will not necessarily play a part on Monday.
But this is still a game between one side that has looked sure, composed, well drilled and won this season against another that has seemed unsure of itself, stutters too often and can’t seem to put a run together. It is also a game between two sides separated by SEVEN points.
Strip away the emotions. Who will you put your money on if there was a jackpot at stake? Logic says Hearts of Oak.