Red Knights back on top after besting Al Shabab
Ciel of Al Ahli celebrates his goal against Al Shabab during the Arabian Gulf League on Friday.
Dubai - UAE international striker Ahmed Khalil gave the Red Knights the lead at the start of the second half after which Ciel, formerly with Al Shabab, but who has now settled into life at Al Ahli after a bit of uncertainty, added the second on 72 minutes.
Al Ahli returned to the top of the Arabian Gulf League after defeating fierce rivals Al Shabab 2-1 in a slightly ill-tempered Deira Derby at the Rashid Stadium on Friday night.
UAE international striker Ahmed Khalil gave the Red Knights the lead at the start of the second half after which Ciel, formerly with Al Shabab, but who has now settled into life at Al Ahli after a bit of uncertainty, added the second on 72 minutes.
Al Shabab, who were down to nine men after Mahmood Qassim and the inspirational Carlos Villanueva were given marching orders following second bookings, pulled one back through Hassan Ibrahim.
The match had a bit more edge to it, coming as it did after Al Ahli were replaced by Al Shabab in the Arabian Gulf Cup final against Al Wahda following the UAE Football Association's (UAE FA) Disciplinary Committee's decision that the Red Knights had fielded an ineligible player in midfielder Khamis Ismail.
Earlier, arch rivals Al Ain had moved to the summit after a 4-2 win over Bani Yas at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. But a little over two hours later, the Red Knights ensured that order was restored by retaking their position at the top.
This was Al Ahli's 17th win from 21 games and they now have 53 points. Al Ain are a point behind in second with Al Wasl displacing Al Wahda to take the third spot.
Meanwhile, it was Al Shabab's eighth loss in the League and they remain in sixth place with 29 points.
Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu said that the three points were vital in keeping them in the title fight with tough fixtures against Al Jazira, fellow title challengers Al Ain, Al Nasr, Bani Yas coming up after a break in the League.
"The three points is very important and keep us in the fight," Olaroiu said after the game.
"We played good football and people enjoyed it. And it is good for us that more and more people come because we need their support. We need more people in the stadium as that will boost us to play even better," he added.
The Red Knights have a tricky path ahead of them and resume after the break with a tough away fixture against Al Jazira in April, followed by an 'Al Clasico' against Al Ain at their fortress - the Rashid Stadium, a game that could well decide where the League trophy is headed.
Al Ahli are then away to Al Nasr and at home to Bani Yas, with their final fixture of the League at home to Al Shaab.
Meanwhile Al Shabab coach Caio Junior said that his side did well in the first half to keep Al Ahli at bay but added that being reduced to 9 men made matters worse for them.
"To play against Ahli with 10 men is difficult. And I think Carlos Villanueva's second booking was not right and that finished the game for us. Despite having nine to Al Ahli's 11, my players fought well and we still managed to score," said Junior.
Al Shabab are sixth but Junior still harbours hopes of a top-three finish. "I would have liked at least one point from this game. But it didn't happen. We need to win the last five games if we want to finish in the top three," he said.