Abalora, Attah show class in Hearts-Kotoko stalemate

BY: George Ernest Asare
Kotoko's dependable goalkeeper Razak Abalora (second right) poses with a section of Hearts players after their match

Goalkeepers Razak Abalora of Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Richard Attah of Accra Hearts of Oak emerged the toast of  their sides as they displayed between the sticks to keep a clean sheet in the Ghana Premier League top fixture at the Accra stadium yesterday.

Although the match ended in a scoreless draw, the two rival goalies stood tall as they saved a spot kick each in either half that could have changed the course of the match.

For the first time in recent memory, the titanic match was played behind closed doors due to COVID-19 restrictions which denied fans an opportunity to watch the classy display by both sides.

A combination between Emmanuel Gyamfi, Kwame Opoku and Imoro Ibrahim in the third minute saw the latter deep in the penalty box of Hearts but before he could pounce on the ball, a Hearts defender hacked him down, for which referee Bless Selorm Yao rightfully awarded a spot kick.

Opoku was handed the responsibility of putting Kotoko ahead but goalkeeper Attah dived full length to his left to grab the ball.
It was a big relief for the Phobians who began to put their passes together and took the game to their opponents, pressing them to their own half with sustained energy.

In the eighth minute, Hearts forward Patrick Razak, a constant thorn in the flesh of the Kotoko defenders,  dribbled his way through a cluster of Kotoko markers and delivered a shot which Abalora dealt with.

Two minutes later, the Kotoko shot-stopper came to the rescue of his side again by denying Hearts' Frederic Ansah Botchway a goal-scoring opportunity, as he stretched to push the ball to safety.

Hearts continued to dominate the exchanges with good ball possession, swift inter positional passes which saw Kotoko defenders Christopher Nettey, Mubarak Yusif,  Imoro Ibrahim and Ishmael Abdul Gani struggling to contain the Phobians

In spite of their superiority, the Heats attackers found goalkeeper Abalora unyielding as he was called to duty to save many sticky scoring opportunities .

Against the run of play in the 35th minute, Kotoko’s striker Naby Laye Keita squandered a chance to put his side ahead after a good combination with Fabio Gama.

After recess, Razak managed to get past his marker Ibrahim but shot wide with Abalora at his mercy. It was another relief for Kotoko who began to sense danger and started soaking up pressure in defence and attacking Hearts from the flanks.

In one of their attacks in the 52nd minute, Keita came close to opening the scoring but Attah came to his side's rescue with a good save, as Kotoko continued to look for ways to get past the unyielding Hearts back line.

As the game was heading for a draw, a combination between Razak and substitute Mensah saw onrushing Abalora trip Mensah for a penalty. To his credit, the goalkeeper rose to the occasion to deny Mensah a late winner to ensure both sides shared the points at stake.