A Franck Mbella Etouga strike handed Asante Kotoko a 1-0 home win over arch-rivals Hearts of Oak in the Ghana Premier League on Sunday.

The Cameroonian’s first-half penalty made the difference in the match-day 24 fixture at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi.

It was the GPL leading scorer’s 16th goal of the campaign, highlighting his prolific first season with the club.

The Porcupine Warriors, meanwhile, sit eight points clear at the top of the table, firmly on course to win their first league title since 2014.

Hearts, on the other hand, hold the sixth spot, 17 points below the league leaders and in danger of losing the title the won last season.

Kotoko’s first XI was headlined by the in-form Etouga and Brazilian playmaker Fabio Gama, who is battling to regain a permanent spot in Prosper Narteh Ogum’s starting set-up after returning from injury.

Playmaker Gladson Awako unsurprisingly led Hearts’ starting side but their biggest team news was the absence of former Ghana star Sulley Muntari from the matchday squad while new signing Samuel Inkoom, a team-mate of Muntari at the 2010 World Cup, made the bench.

In just the third minute, Imoro Ibrahim nearly put the hosts in front when he pounced on a loose ball but his shot, after a good dribble, came off the woodwork.

Still on the front foot, Kotoko earned a reward for their early hard work as referee Kennedy Padi pointed to the spot after adjudging Nurudeen Abdul-Aziz to have fouled Gama in the box.

Mbella stepped up and expertly converted to send his side 1-0 up on 17 minutes.

After the break, Imoro made another goal attempt from a free-kick but his effort flew over the bar.

In his bid to lift his side’s game, Hearts coach Boadu threw on Inkoom for a clash against his former side.

Still, Kotoko had the upper hand. In the 68th minute, Gama had a golden opportunity to double their lead but he was only able to hit the side netting.

A series of half chances followed for both sides and after five minutes of injury time, referee Padi whistled to bring proceedings to an end.

The reverse fixture in Accra ended 0-0 in February.

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