Phobian's false start; More to be worried about or just a blip?

Not many teams start their season without a substantive coach. Fewer still, do so and expect to win the league. When you add a 9 year title wait to the parameters, the list grows smaller. Of the few remaining, Accra Hearts of Oak can be mentioned. The hope though is to do enough to be mentioned in a more complimentary manner and so far, not much has gone right.

Entrusted with the duty of care for this “hope” - on an interim basis, mind – is Henry Wellington.

For a man who is auditioning for his dream job, he’s done himself no favors thus far. In this season’s first game, his team impressed in spurts rather than in long spells in their 1-1 draw with Premier League new boys Eleven Wonders. On Sunday, it was no better. Worse actually. Not just the result but the performance.

It was difficult to tell what Hearts wanted to do as they struggled to get past Ashgold's deep blocks. Time without number, Evans Kwaw and Benjamin Agyare hit hopeful long balls in search of Cosmos Dauda and Joseph Esso who couldn’t do much with them. When they had to pass from midfield, it was no better. Malik Akowuah struggled to find teammates with his passing and when he did, it was often in areas from where they couldn’t trouble Ashgold. Daniel Kodie fared no better and it’s hard to blame him because distributing the ball is hardly his greater asset. In the end, Hearts created next to nothing as Henry Wellington couldn't influence the game, at least not positively.

Maybe Hearts could've opened up Ashgold with quick, precise passing and movement to create space. Maybe they should've centered their build up on combinations with Winful Cobbinah more to get past the first and second blocks. Maybe Henry Wellington should've set up differently. That’s not to say Hearts would’ve won had they played that way or it’s the best way of working this team. In fact, the moment, no one knows what’s best for this team. Not even Wellington. But he has to figure that out and soon. Soon because he only has a short time – even though unspecified – to convince Hearts to make him the substantive coach. How much of chance he has will be determined by what he gets out of this group.

Happier times. Hearts quartet of  - from left to right - Samuel Affum, Kofi Abanga, Obed Ansah and Tetteh Nortey celebrating a goal in what now is a distant memory of Hearts last title winning season in June 2009.

Getting anything significant from this group is quite an ask and you’ve got to feel for Wellington. He’s been given a team that is very much a downgrade on last year’s which by the way progressed steadily over the years. After surviving a relegation scare, Hearts came back stronger the following season and narrowly missed out on the title to Wa All Stars who bettered Hearts by just a point.  A year later, Frank Nuttal's Hearts team finished 3 points behind eventual winners Aduana Stars, lost the FA Cup final 1-3 to Asante Kotoko. Even in the disappointment, it was hard to shake off the feeling that Hearts were on the rise again. The next step would've been to win the league and prior to the mass star exodus, there was a sense this was going to be the year. However things have gone south and we'll address that in another write up.

Former Heart's skipper Thomas Abbey. Last term's best player. Now a goner.

Worth noting that it took that group 3years for players like Kwame Kizito, Leonard Tawiah, Vincent Atinga, and Fatau Mohammed to reach the levels they currently play at, 5years for Thomas Abbey and Robin Gnagne to get to the levels they played at for the past two years and I reckon it will take a similar period if not longer for this group to get to the levels the previous did. Those were heavyweights; heavyweight replaced with lightweights. Take for instance Thomas Abbey, Kizito and Atinga. The trio combined to give Hearts 25 league goals – Abbey with 13, Kizito with 7 and Atinga with 5. Their replacements? Benjamin Agyare who despite joining for ₵110000 has no league experience, Joseph Esso - a free agent from Dwarfs who lacked suitors – and as for Thomas Abbey’s replacement, good luck trying to find one in this team. It’s not just the reputation or the goals that’s gone. In losing Atinga and Gnagne, Hearts lost two of last season’s back three. Together with Cobbinah, Razak, Tawiah, Fatau and Abbey, they formed the spine of the team. That spine is gone and Hearts will have to rebuild with Razak and Cobbinah – who look set to leave in 6months with their contracts expiring.

All of that though, won’t stop Hearts from demanding good performance and results from Wellington – who badly wants this job - or whoever gets it in on a permanent basis.

Winful Cobbinah remains a beacon of Hearts, but for a time.

But those expectations from management need to be married with reality and logic; and at this moment, logic says not to expect from this team, performances and results they’ve not shown they’re capable of. At least not yet.

Of course things could fall in place sooner. Samudeen Ibrahim, Patrick Razak and Inusah Musah  - who have all missed both games – could return and inspire a turn around. Potentially fast track this period of transition and maybe even be good enough for a title charge. But the reverse is more likely and knowledge of this should guide Phobians to be measured in their expectations and be patient.

It’s hard to ask fans to be patient when they’ve waited 10 years for silverware and had none. Especially when they’ve come so close to breaking that jinx only to lose to the enemy in a cup final and see all hopes crashed when the spine of the team moves on. But wait they must, hopefully not for too long.

Written by Victor Atsu Tamakloe

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