Two-goal hero Zuma allays Hearts’ fears after massive player exodus

It was the opening minutes of the second half. The game was locked at 1-1. The Mysterious Dwarfs were in charge. Stringing passes together intricately and entertaining the little Cape Coast fandom that had come to watch their beloved side.

Hearts coach Frank Nuttal had to do something – a game changing tactic. Prior to the game he told the media he had started with Ivorian Alexandre Kouame for his strength and his ability to invite others onto the ball with his hold up play. All of that hadn’t worked out as planned.

Hearts of Oak’s manager Frank Nuttal read the game from the bench

Kouame squandered the game’s best chance in the 35th minute when a brilliant over the top pass from Samudeen found him in the box but he fluffed his effort for the defence to clear. In the first half it was shocking stuff from the Hearts striker who became a symbol of mockery for the crowd. It was almost impossible not to feel the attention he was getting from the highly expectant crowd.

He looked confused on many occasions – dressed in these strange rainbow clothes, ambling about on the pitch like he had just received an anesthesia to numb his sense of awareness. He had some good moments though, but they were barely insignificant.

So when Nuttal needed a lift and knew he lacked bite upfront, he decided to go with Richard Zuma. Zuma stood on the touchline earnestly waiting to come on while the crowd looked on- inquiring among themselves who that guy was. He was relatively unknown amongst the fans and even the few media men that had gathered to report and run match commentaries for their respective media houses.

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In the 56th minute, Kouassi came off and on went Richard Zuma.

Six minutes after his introduction though, Hearts were in trouble. Hearts defender, Richard Akrofi brought down an opponent in the box for a penalty which Joseph Esso prodded home with consummate ease. Hearts were down again but they were for all but three minutes. Samudeen Ibrahim, Hearts of Oak’s talisman got the ball in midfield and worked it beautifully receiving loud cheers from the fans and sent a pass forward that found Zuma accurately.

At that point, everything stopped – people were already off their seats. The big Dwarfs goalkeeper, Emmanuel Nfaligu was way off his line. Zuma moved forward chasing the ball, checked past the goalkeeper rounding him in the process and slotted in beautifully. It was a good goal. His confidence and calmness in front of the goal is something many strikers in the Ghana league lack. The game laboured on at 2-2 until the 86th minute when Zuma struck again.

This time with a proper striker’s goal. Picking his spot and making no mistake. At 3-2 with just 4 minutes to go, it was all Hearts till the referee whistled to end proceedings. Hearts are through to the next stage of the G8 tournament.

It was a moment Zuma might have dreamed of all his life. He had been in integral figure in the Godwin Attram’s Academy before he was called upon to join the team this season after some 5 players whose contracts have run out decided to leave the club. The player exodus at Hearts has affected the team in many ways. Hearts were strong last season. Captain Thomas Abbey was phenomenal, Leonard Tawiah became a midfield enforcer, Vincent Atingah was the beast in defence and Winful Cobbinah as his name suggests, added the winning touch to the team. They have kept a solid chunk though. Patrick Razak, Daniel Kodie, Richard Akrofi and Inusah Musah but It looks way different now for the Rainbow club – an absolute far cry from what they had last season. If they were 2 km close to the title last season, they are now 222km off it. Credit to Frank Nuttal who has been able to augment the squad properly with Zuma’s introduction and the acquisition of Christopher Bonney from Ebusua Dwarfs who delivered a five star performance against his former side last weekend.

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But all of this won’t be enough. Can Hearts compete with the likes of Aduana Stars and Kotoko for the league title that has eluded them since 2009? No. The “big men” at the club keep telling the fans to calm down and rally behind the team at such a trying time but it is difficult. The glimmer of hope though is that if junior players like Zuma can be this good, then they can be introduced into the fray to try and get the team back on track.

They say every cloud has a silver lining and for Hearts, that silver lining could just be two-goal hero Richard Zuma.

By Yaw Ofosu Larbi | | Ghana