Ghana recall helps Thomas Agyepong bounce back from penalty miss
Thomas Agyepong has been on an emotional rollercoaster, going from the high of scoring his first Hibs goal only to plumb the depths as his missed penalty sent his new team crashing out of the Betfred Cup.
But today the smile is back on the winger’s face, the despair of that defeat by Aberdeen forgotten as his first start for the Capital club was quickly followed by a recall by Ghana for their upcoming Africa Cup of Nations double-header against Sierra Leone.
The on-loan Manchester City winger will fly out to Accra on Sunday to prepare for the first of those games, hoping to do so having helped Neil Lennon’s players to a fourth successive Ladbrokes Premiership win.
Already capped five times by his country, the 21-year-old has had to wait some 13 months for that recall, a reward he believes for enjoying regular first-team action in a Hibs jersey.
And he is already looking forward to renewing old friendships in an international squad comprised of players scattered from South Africa to the United States, and a host of European countries.
He said: “We don’t see much of each other because we are playing all over the world but while we are playing in different leagues, smart players know how to play with each other. The atmosphere is always very good – joking, making fun and playing music. It is always great to meet the guys again, especially back home in Ghana. And we know the atmosphere at our first game on Thursday will be amazing before we move on to Freetown [Sierra Leone] for the second match.
“I am looking forward to it, but it’s always good to go into the international break with a win.
“We’ve won three in a row now although we were unlucky in the cup, everything is good.
“I enjoyed my goal at Dundee, it was a good goal. Hopefully there will be more to come. End product is important, whether it is a goal or an assist. You can have all the dribbles you like but if there is no end product it is a waste, that is something the gaffer is always telling me.”
Agyepong admitted he had been left devastated when he saw his sudden-death penalty crash back off the bar against Aberdeen, revealing he had never been involved in such a shoot-out before.
He said: “I was actually one of the nominated penalty-kick takers for Ghana’s Under-17 side but we never ended up with a shoot-out so I’d never taken one on that kind of stage – it was a bit different for me.
“I thought I was unlucky, had my shot been an inch or two lower it would have gone in. I was shocked when it didn’t, I was devastated and thought of nothing else when I’d gone home afterwards.”
Almost immediately though, Agyepong was comforted, initially by his team-mates and Lennon but then by a text from Joleon Lescott, the former England internationalist who is his mentor at Manchester City.
He said: “Joleon told me it was part of the game, that players have missed penalties in Champions League finals, in World Cup finals, that I should look forward and not back, that the penalty was gone and I couldn’t take it again.”
Lescott, who played for Wolves, Everton, Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa, has also been a visitor to Hibs’ training centre at East Mains, an example of the close attention the English champions pay to the development of the young players they have sent out on loan.
Agyepong said: “Joleon obviously has huge experience in the game and he is the one who looks after me. It’s great to have someone like him at hand to offer advice.
“After every game he calls me and we go through it and then he’ll come up here every two or three weeks to make sure I am mentally and physically good.
“He comes to a game, comes to training and has a chat with the gaffer about how I am doing. Joleon is happy with how things are going for me at Hibs.”
Agyepong and his team-mates shrugged off the heartbreaking nature of their cup exit by bouncing back to beat St Mirren before he learned of his return to the international fold.
He said: “It’s all about learning, sometimes football can be hard, other times it’s good. For me it’s all about playing games, helping my team win whether that’s playing from the start or coming off the bench.
“I didn’t play much last season because of injury so I wanted to come here, get games and help contribute to the success of the club.
“Things have been going well for both me and the team. I’m getting the regular first-team football I’ve wanted and the reward for that is being called back to play for Ghana. It’s always an honour when your country wants you.
“It’s always great to go back home, usually I can only do that at the end of a season when I have a bit of time off.”