Hearts of Oak got the job done on Sunday by overcoming their arch-rivals Asante Kotoko in the most important league meeting in over a decade.
A second-half strike by revitalized attacker Daniel Afriyie Barnieh was enough to give the Phobians all three points at the Accra Sports Stadium.
A day to the match, Barnieh was trending. Not only because it was his 20th birthday, but photos of him wearing a Kotoko jersey resurfaced on social media. Apparently, before his move to Hearts, Barnieh went on trials at Kotoko but the Porcupine Warriors were not impressed and had to let him go.
It is a story many had not heard, but to be fair it wouldn’t have been worth telling if the boy was still indecisive and frustrating like he was during the truncated season.
Since returning from Mauritania with a gold medal as Ghana were crowned African champions at the U20 level, Barnieh has been a completely different player, contributing massively to the Phobians unexpected rise to the summit.
In his last nine games, he’s scored two goals and provided two assists. So when the story surfaced, it was euphonious.
Hearts fans predicted a revenge for Barnieh.
In the end, he did have his revenge.
With the game begging for a goal, Barnieh scored the match-winner in the 66th minute. Frederick Ansah Botchway, who had the opportunity to play because of an early injury to Emmanuel Nettey, outside the box strike fortuitously fell to the path of Barnieh who redirected the ball into the net.
Hearts of Oak held on to win.
Hearts of Oak 6 points away from the title
When referee Daniel Laryea, who proved doubters wrong with an error-free performance, blew his whistle for the end of the game, the stadium erupted with wild celebrations from Hearts faithfuls.
The charismatic Samuel Boadu led the playing body’s celebrations on the field, the board members celebrated at the comfortable VVIP while the supporters sang and danced in the stands.
Their simultaneous celebrations illustrated how desperate they were to beat Kotoko. A win that has given an assured lead in a tight title race.
With three matches to go, Hearts (59) are three points ahead of Kotoko (56) plus have a better head to head record. What that means is the Phobians just need six points from their remaining games to win the league.
If they win their next two games against Ebusua Dwarfs and Liberty Professionals, both teams battling relegation, Hearts of Oak would deserve a guard of honour from WAFA at the WAFA stadium in Sogakope, a venue the Phobians were humiliated 5-0 four years ago.