The title aspirations of Accra Hearts of Oak appears to be over following a 1-0 defeat to perennial rivals, Asante Kotoko at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.
It was perhaps the last stroke that broke the camel’s back as Kotoko widened the gap between them and the defending champions to 16 unassailable points after match day 25.
A 17th minute goal from the spot by Kotoko’s Cameroonian import, Frank Etouba Mbella separated the two sides in a match full of tension and anxiety.
Asante Kotoko started the match on a good note as they pressed Hearts in the own half in the early minutes with Imoro Ibrahim coming close to finding the opener on the second minute.
Kotoko continued to dominate possession for the first six minutes as they made a couple dangerous incursions into the vital area of the visitors but failed to convert the few chances created.
But for a brilliant save by goalkeeper Richmond, Asante Kotoko could have broken the deadlock on the 10th minute.
Referee Kennedy Padi awarded a penalty to Asante Kotoko on the 14th minute after Fabio Gama was brought down in the box.
Frank Etouga Mbella beautifully converted the penalty, sending the goalkeeper the wrong direction for his 16th goal of the season.
Hearts of Oak after conceding the first goal lifted their performance but all their efforts were kept at bay by the defence of Asante Kotoko.
Goalkeeper Ayi was called to duty again on the 29th minute when he pushed a long drive by Fabio Gama to safety.
Few chances were created by both sides after the 30th minute as they battled for the ball predominantly in the midfield but Kotoko maintained their slim lead till the end of the first half.
Hearts of Oak started the second half determined to draw level in the early minutes as they took the game to the Porcupines Warriors in their own half, creating series of nervous moments in the vital area.
Kotoko was forced to make an early substitution after Maxwell Agyemang who had been limping in the later part of the first half was stretched off the pitch.
His place was taken by Mudasiru Salifu as versatile Sherrif Mohammed was reassigned defensive duties by Coach Prosper Nartey Ogum.
Hearts of Oak made two quick substitutions on the 63rd minute bringing on Patrick Razak and Samuel Inkoom for Isaac Mensah and Gladson Awako respectively.
Fabio Gama came close to fetching Kotoko’s second goal in the 68th minute but his effort from close range hit the woodwork.
A teasing cross from George Mfegue two minutes later from the right side of attack almost beat the goalkeeper but he managed to stop the ball from entering the net with a diving save.
Following the sustained pressure on Hearts of Oak, Coach Samuel Boadu was compelled introduce fresh limbs to contain the attacking threats of Kotoko.
For some brief moments, Hearts of Oak appeared to have come into the game but the unyielding Porcupines stood their grounds to neutralise the visitor’s dominance.
As the game approached the closing stages both teams stepped up their performance but Hearts failed to restore parity as Kotoko secured all the three points to strengthen the chances of winning the league.