Ahly tightened the gap with leading duo Zamalek and Pyramids FC after a tough 1-0 victory against Haras El-Hodoud in the Egyptian league at El-Salam Stadium on Friday.
The Cairo giants secured their fifth straight victory - their longest winning streak since the beginning of the season - thanks to a number of January signings and the arrival of the new Uruguayan tactician Martin Lasarte last month.
The game did not see an impressing performance from Ahly with Lasarte opting to rotate his squad in an attempt to overcome the team’s heavy fixture congestion.
The resting of key players like Amr El-Sulaya, Mohamed Hani and sitting Karim "Nedved" Walid and Hussein El-Shahat on the bench out of the starting 11 had a big impact on the team's performance.
However, a 45th minute goal from Hamdi Fathi, his first ever goal for the Red Devils since joining from ENPPI in January, was enough to secure the important three points for the defending champions.
Ahly remain third in the standings as Friday’s win took them up to 39 points, three behind Pyramids FC - who have played three more games, and six behind table-toppers Zamalek.
Haras El-Hodoud entered the game 11th in the league table with 24 points.
Lowly first half
The guests had the first sight of goal after 4 minutes when midfielder Mostafa Gamal struck from a distance, but his shot was brilliantly clawed away by Mohamed El-Shennawi.
El-Hodoud effectively controlled the first 10 minutes of the match, winning two corner kicks but failed to cause any real troubles to Ahly who were able to gradually assume possession of the ball.
At 14 minutes, Ahly’s January-signed Angolan winger Geraldo struggled to make use of Ali Maaloul’s cross when goalkeeper Ahmed El-Saadani parried away his first-touch close range shoot to a corner kick.
The Alexandria side were able to score after 20 minutes when striker Emam Ashour easily tapped in a cross from a throw-in, before the additional assistant referee chalked it off for what seemed to be a foul against Ahly's defender Ayman Ashraf.
Despite the modest performance, Ahly were able to end the first half one goal up when Fathi fired a stoppage-time header from a smart chip set-piece by left-back Maaloul.
The 25-year-old could have netted a brace eight minutes after the break by another strong header from a cross by Maaloul that was brilliantly saved by keeper El-Saadani.
Both teams shared possession during the second half but mostly failed to create any real chances to score.
Four minutes to regulation, Hodoud’s substitute Ahmed El-Sheikh took the rebound after a long pass and lobbed the ball to find central-back Saad Samir who cleared it from the goal line.
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