By Sulayman Bah
Optimism was the general feeling at onset of the game buoyed up by Gambia’s rare display of bravery away in Lome.
The second-leg at the Bakau mini-stadium, it was hoped, will be an occasion of finishing off what was started in the Togolese capital. But to the bewilderment of the thousands that turned out to watch an Adebayor-less Sparrow Hawks, it was hosts Gambia who left whipping. Forlorn figures littered the stadium at end of the match.
Lying back first on the pitch grasses, his head in his hands, striker Assan Ceesay’s facial expression summed up Scorpions’ woes.
Fulham Flyod Ayite’s last-gasp goal was the difference-maker. The Togolese playmaker beat the exhausted Gambian defence to power in a well-aimed shot that beat Nigeria-based Scorpions’ net-minder Alagie Jobe.
The Scorpions began the match with instinct of killing off the game with early goals. It was for such a drive that brought about the poor calculations as attacker Lamin Jallow threw open chances and failed to connect an on-rushing Assan Ceesay, in another begging opportunity, in the opening minutes.
As agitated home fans pestered with the intermittent hissings, the heat slowly turned on Gambia. Ebou Adams’ inclusion to form part of a midfield shepherd by Ebrima Sohna and Sulayman Marreh, did not yield the gains it did against Algeria and in the away game last Friday.
Devoid of creativity surging forward, Adams was left exposed and cut figure of a man out of comfort his zone as the Togolese seized the midfield, leaving a hard-tackling Sohna and Marreh chasing shadows. The Norwich City starlet had to be hauled off in the second-half later as gaffer Tom Saintfiet switched from a three to a 2-man midfield throwing up more attackers.
The Belgian’s desperation became more apparent in his bid to steal the points, sacrificing Marreh out and fielding in five strikers, Muhammed Badamosi, Ablie Jallow, Ali Sowe to join starters Assan Ceesay and Musa Barrow.
Assan forced in but got bundled in the box with the arbiter nodding to a free-kick instead of Gambia’s penalty appeal.
Barrow disappointedly crashed the free-kick into the wall five-man opposition wall as time wore on.
The Sparrow Hawks kept their composure and their patience paid off after Ayite led a counter beating the Gambian defenders prior to switching the ball to his right and smacking it in.
The match later ended 1-0 in favour of a 10-man Togo who had captain Djene Dakonam Ortoga sent off for an infringement.
The Scorpions now occupy Group D’s table basement on two points with Togo climbing second on five points behind leaders Algeria who have seven points in the bag. Benin is third.