Mohamed Abou-Treika celebrated his 33rd birthday in style, scoring a goal and creating another to help Ahly secure a hard-fought 3-2 victory over a resilient ENPPI side in the Egyptian Premier League on Monday.
The veteran playmaker, who is way past his prime, won and converted a first-half penalty to put Ahly 2-0 up after striker Emad Meteb had given them an early lead.
ENPPI narrowed the gap early in the second half through a goal from Ahmed Abdel-Zaher and wasted a penalty which would have drawn them level few minutes later.
Ahly added a third in the 64th minute, thanks to a fierce left-foot shot from in-form winger Walid Soliman before a late goal from ENPPI’s Mohamed Sobhy made the Red Devils a bundle of nerves in a frantic ending.
The title holders, who grabbed their third successive win, moved three points clear at the top with a 14-point tally from six games. Maqassa, who beat promoted Dakhleya earlier in the day, have 11 points.
Ahly’s arch-rivals Zamalek, who have 10 points, will move second if they beat Ittihad El-Shorta on Tuesday. The poor start of Egypt Cup winners ENPPI leaves them 15th in the 19-team table on four points.
Motivated by the vociferous chants of their die-hard supporters, who lit numerous firecrackers prior to kick off to continue playing cat and mouse with the Egyptian Football Association, Ahly got off to an explosive start.
They needed two minutes to go ahead when Meteb ran onto a through pass from Soliman down the left flank, held off a tame challenge from ENPPI’s Rami Sabri and burst into the area unopposed to send home an angled shot.
ENPPI had a couple of half-chances to restore parity, a header from Osama Ragab which was gathered by keeper Sherif Ekramy and a shot from Mohamed Shaaban which went over the bar, but Ahly soon regained control, with their intricate passing game causing constant menace to their opponents.
Ahly’s free-flowing football, orchestrated by lively winger Soliman, paid off in the 34th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Osama Ragab caught Abou-Treika with a high boot.
The Egyptian international, who has been one of the mainstays of Ahly’s squad since joining in 2004, stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way and notch his first goal of the season.
ENPPI briefly annoyed Ahly in the early stages of the second half as they came within a whisker of staging a remarkable comeback.
They had a goal disallowed for offside but quickly made amends, pulling one back in the 50th minute when a deflected cross by Mohamed Aboul-Ella struck the bar and fell to the unmarked Abdel-Zaher, who beat Ekramy at the near post with a close-range shot.
ENPPI could have equalized six minutes later when Ekramy, who misjudged a cross, hauled down Mohamed Sobhy near the byline but Islam Awad’s ensuing low spot-kick missed the target.
They were made to pay for the wasted effort when Ahly restored their two-goal cushion four minutes past the hour mark.
Soliman clipped the ball over the defense to Abou-Treika, advanced to receive the return pass before unleashing a powerful left-foot shot which left the keeper with no chance.
ENPPI, however, did not give up as they grabbed another lifeline with eight minutes remaining when Ahly’s Hossam Ghaly lost possession in midfield, allowing Ivorian striker Vincent Die Foneye to pounce on the loose ball and feed the overlapping Sobhi, who dinked the ball over Ekramy and into the bottom corner.
The goal forced a tense finale but Ahly held onto their slender lead to claim a precious victory.