The Goal Lounge: What has contributed to Hearts of Oak's impressive Ghana league second round campaign?

Today we put the spotlight on Ghana top-flight side Accra Hearts of Oak and gauge the factors that have contributed to their success in the second half of the league
The Goal Lounge
Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly series, where we introduce you to the Goal Ghana reporters and their opinions on trending issues about the beautiful game. So take a seat and relax in The Goal Lounge as our panelists debate:
What has contributed to Hearts of Oak's impressive Ghana league second round campaign?

By their very own high standards in the past, Hearts of Oak fans would feel that this season has been a disappointment and rightly so, but for any student of the Ghana league, the second half of this season’s campaign has been extraordinary for the Phobians. Before the end of the first round, Hearts of Oak appeared destined for relegation (I doubt that would happen though). The club seemed to have pressed the self-destruct button with scandals, resignations and player indiscipline being the order of the day. Albert Commey, Ashford Tetteh Oku and Fred Crentsil all left the club while Coach C.K Akunnor was fired for inefficiency. All the aforementioned incidents at the time suggested that the centre could no longer hold for the great Oak Tree. Board Chairman Togbe Afede XIV’s reign was questioned. His dedication to Hearts of Oak in the midst of his numerous private engagements was also questioned but before long, Hearts of Oak manoeuvred their way out of the muddy waters. Heart’s resurgence has not been by accident. It has taken a lot of hard work, discipline, patience and good communication to turn around what was destined to be a gloomy campaign. When I talk about the hard work that Hearts of Oak have done to resurrect their campaign then I am talking about their propriety during the second transfer window of the season. Without prejudice to the players who were brought in under CK Akunnor, those players were below average and on any day should never don the famous Hearts of Oak jersey. Duncan realised the inferiority of his squad and improved it. The medical team of the club also deserves commendation. Working hard on Fiamenyo and Esme Mends to return from injury was phenomenal.

Discipline and good communication have formed the basis of this resurgence. The ruthless nature with which the club dealt with Laryea Kingston and his persistent insubordination sent a clear signal to the entire playing staff that no one is bigger than the club and that statement was echoed loudly. When it comes to good communication, Hearts of Oak scored full marks. Duncan worked on the psyche of the numerous supporters. He made them understand that the team was not good enough to win the premier league. He made them aware that much as he is a good coach, he would need time to build a winsome side. That has worked magic and it is the reason that although the Phobians find themselves in 7th position, the supporters feel it’s more than they could have asked for.

Hearts of Oak’s form in the second round this season has been nothing short of phenomenal; so far the Phobians have lost only once. The Phobians renaissance is a subject of much discussion in football circles in Ghana and a lot of efforts have been made to ascertain the particular reason why the team has been in such good form with most fans and pundits pointing to the good work which Duncan has done with the team, as the main reason for this uplift in form. Despite the obvious input the tactician has put into the team, it has to be remembered in the analysis, that of the 27 league games that Hearts have played in the league this season, Duncan has been at the helm for 21 of them, missing only the first six games of the season. Rightly, however, his performance in those nine games before the end of the first round is not extensively scrutinised as he was limited with respect to the material he had at his disposal and his impact on this run cannot be understated. It has been said that when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up and for me, taking nothing away from Duncan’s performance, this has also been a contributing factor. The Phobians hit rock bottom when they ended the first round in the relegation zone and really it will have taken very little to improve the team’s performance in the first round where they won only three of 15 games and with the expectations lowered the team has flourished in the second round beyond expectations.

The other contributing factor is the unified front in the team for the second round. Hearts of Oak’s early season was blighted with various off field issues and wrangling at the higher level in the club which adversely affected performances on the pitch. The decrease in such incidences is also a very important factor in their performances this second round. The team’s spirit as well as the individual performances of the players have also played a huge part with the obvious mention being Otoo who has scored 16 times overall in the league this season, with nine of those coming in the second round. The defensive partnership of Robin Gnagne and Nuru Sulley who have looked absolutely resolute individually and have been almost impenetrable when on the pitch together also deserves a mention, contributing to Hearts’ good defensive record in this round, only New Edubiase (6) and Wa All Stars (4) have conceded less than Hearts of Oak (7) in the second round. All these factors in my opinion combine to explain Hearts’ superb form so far in the second round of the league.


Hearts of Oak’s revival in the second round can be attributed to head coach David Duncan’s management style and Mahatma Otoo's sensational form. Duncan will take a lot of the credit for the renaissance - and quite rightly so. Duncan has succeeded in instilling discipline in the team, eradicated egoisms at the club i.e Laryea Kingston - and has created an atmosphere for meritocracy; where good performances have been commended by starting berths in the team and mediocre displays are not countenanced in the team. This system has seen players lift their games. Competition for playing time at the club is at an all-time high this season with only the indefatigable Otoo guaranteed a first team spot. James Mugre, Emmanuel Osei, Sadat Karim, James Bissue and James Abban have fallen off the radar with Thomas Abbey, Winful Cobbinah, Stephen Tetteh, and Gilbert Fiamenyo making the best out of their given opportunities.

Self-motivation, a luxury that was absent in the first round, is now the pre-requisite for selection and players outdo each other just to be part of the team. Duncan has been able to succeed where many Hearts managers have failed. He has developed a special affinity with the fans and the predilection is mutual. They call him “Mourinho,” and he calls them the “best fans in the world.” With that mutual respect and relationship, Duncan has cleverly lowered the fans' expectations and invariably taken the pressure off his players who are playing with much freedom and less burden. Otoo’s red-hot form cannot be discounted in the revival. The Hearts captain has broken his last season’s personal best of 12 goals in all competitions and he is in line to better his accumulated goals from last two seasons this year. The two are responsible for the great performance of the team in the second round.

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