Egyptian Premier League leaders Zamalek extended their win-less run to three games after suffering a surprise 2-1 defeat at the hands of lowly Gouna, which threw the title race wide open on Tuesday.
The hosts took the lead early in the first half through Hassan Gomaa’s free kick but Zamalek restored parity five minutes past the hour mark, thanks to a goal from winger Mahmoud ‘Shikabala’ Abdel-Razek.
Ghanaian forward Samuel Ocran headed home with nine minutes remaining to condemn Zamalek, who drew with ENPPI and Ismaily in their previous two matches, to what looked like an unlikely loss.
The White Knights, who are eyeing their first league title since 2004, remained on top of the 16-team table but are now feeling the pressure with Ismaily and defending champions Ahly breathing down their neck.
Ismaily will be just two points adrift of Zamalek if they beat Smoua later in the day, while Ahly have the chance to get close to their arch-rivals if they overcome Ittihad of Alexandria on Thursday.
Gomaa put Gouna ahead after 13 minutes when his superb curling free-kick sailed over the wall and into the net, despite keeper Abdel Wahed El-Sayed’s desperate attempt to block it.
Zamalek pushed forward to grab the equalizer but struggled to break down a stubborn Gouna defence.
Shikabala was not at his best but he almost set up Hassan Mostafa for the equalizer with a neat lay-off pass midway through the first half, but the central midfielder’s shot struck the post.
Right-winger Omar Gaber was also unlucky when his fierce long-range drive was denied by the crossbar in the 32nd minute.
Lone striker Ahmed Gaafar was a peripheral figure and Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan moved swiftly to support him with the introduction of Amr Zaki, who made his long-awaited return after recovering from a knee injury.
Although Zamalek dominated possession, Gouna remained dangerous on the break and spurned a golden opportunity to double their advantage early in the second half when Ahmed Omran latched onto a through pass to break clear but his angled shot went just wide.
Hassan introduced pacey wing-back Hazem Emam instead of Mostafa and the substitution paid off in the 65th minute.
Emam exchanged passes with Zaki and ran unopposed down the right flank before pulling the ball back to Shikabala, whose low right-foot shot went into the bottom corner of the net from inside the area.
Zamalek laid siege to Gouna’s area to score the winner but remained vulnerable at the back, allowing the hosts to snatch the win in the 81st minute.
A defensive lapse gave Ocran the chance to tower unmarked and head home a deep free kick.