Former league champions, Aduana Stars, produced a last minute spirited performance to draw 1-1 against Kumasi Asante Kotoko at the Baba Yara Stadium yesterday.
Kotoko won the first round encounter 2-0 at the dreaded Agyemang Badu Park but surprisingly dropped points at home and allowed second-placed Bechem United to close in after holding Hearts of Oak to a 1-1 draw last Saturday.
Aduana forward, Bright Adjei, who had been largely anonymous in the game, dived to head home the important equalising goal from a corner kick in the 89th minute to break the hearts of Kotoko players and followers.
It was even more painful for the Kotoko faithful as they watched, in horror, their leading marksman, Frank Etouga, blow away two penalty kicks. However, the Camerounian forward scored a classic goal to put his side ahead. He picked a through ball, made a quick turn and unleashed a powerful shot from outside the penalty area to score the opener with goalkeeper Joseph Addo stranded.
Surprisingly, Etouga wasted two spot kicks in the 62nd 81st minutes, respectively, to increase to three the number of missed penalty kicks this season.
In the first instance, his Camerounian teammate, George Mfegue, was brought down in the penalty area at a time that Aduana appeared to be recovering. Etouga, in a characteristic style, danced around the ball but his final delivery was saved by goalkeeper Joseph Addo.
And in the 81st minute, after being brought down, he elected himself again in a bid to redeem his image. But he hit the upright much to the chagrin of the sparse home fans.
By the seventh minute, Aduana's veteran striker, Yahaya Mohammed, and former Kotoko midfielder, Emmanuel Gyamfi, had settled so well and had become the main threat to the frail Kotoko defence.
Just about the same time, Etouga, who provided little threat to the visiting side, rose up to the challenge with a 20-yard power-drive which went off target.
Kotoko took charge of the midfield early with midfielder, Fabio Gama, as the lynch pin around which the team revolved. However, Aduana coach, Felix Aboagye, was tactical by allowing his team to open up only when the Kotoko defence went to sleep momentarily with Gyamfi and Mohammed as their main threat.
By the 18th minute, the tempo of the game had dropped slightly but Kotoko occasionally pushed for the opener with "ginger haired" winger, Stephen Amankona, as the main target.
In the 28th minute, Bright Adjei failed to give Aduana the lead when he blew a close range opportunity off the cross bar.
It was one of such fast breaks, and as the Kotoko defence focused on Mohammed and Gyamfi, Adjei sneaked in from nowhere, controlled the ball beautifully in the six-yard box and lifted the ball off the upright.
Gyamfi suddenly became the target as he harassed and reduced his markers at the left flank to follow their shadows. But his brilliance came with a price as he became a target of rough play.
Etouga should have scored for Kotoko on the 37th minute but instead of shooting from the penalty area, he decided to lay on a pass to Gama whose final delivery could not be connected by teammate, Stephen Amankona.
A minute after the failed attempt, Etouga chanced on a through pass, delivered an immaculate long drive making goalkeeper Joseph Addo to sprawl without an answer.
Late into the game Aduana lost some steam in their performance as experienced Mohammed appeared tired by the 70th minute, picked up an injury and was substituted by Fataw Abdulman.
His absence weakened Aduana's attacking machinery as Adjei was unable to complement the efforts of Gyamfi. However, the forward was to laugh last when he headed home a late equaliser to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.