Defending champions Ahly have secured their place in the Egyptian Premier League final round with four games to spare in Group A after claiming a late 2-1 win over Haras El-Hodoud on Sunday.
El-Hodoud almost put Ahly's progress to the decisive phase on hold when striker Sherif Ashraf headed home following a corner on 86 minutes to cancel out Walid Soliman's early penalty for the Red Devils.
But youngster Saad Samir, who has become a regular first-team player lately due to a spate of injuries, cut short El-Hodoud's celebrations with another header two minutes from time to give Ahly their seventh successive win.
Ahly, who avenged their 3-0 defeat by El-Hodoud in February and gave rookie coach Mohamed Youssef his second victory from as many games after he took charge of the team following the resignation of Hossam El-Badry, are on top of their group with 30 points, gaining an unassailable 13-minut lead over third-placed Smouha with four matches remaining.
The top two in Groups A and B will qualify for the final round, where a mini-league with only home fixtures will be held to determine the champion.
Ahly were awarded a penalty after 11 minutes when El-Hodoud left-back Islam Ramadan appeared to have handled the ball with a flailing arm. Television replays were inconclusive as to whether there was a handball following a cross.
Soliman calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner to give his side an early lead but they were then outplayed by El-Hodoud, who relied on the pace and trickery of diminutive winger Ahmed Sabry.
Sabry caused constant menace to Ahly's left-back Ahmed Shedid and almost scored the equalizer on 20 minutes when he broke clear but his shot was saved by advancing keeper Sherif Ekramy.
Chances were few and far between in a dull second half but Ahly had a chance to double their advantage five minutes after the restart when winger Ahmed Shokry headed just over the bar after El-Hodoud keeper mis-timed his jump.
El-Hodoud's Ashraf breathed life into the lackluster affair when he was found unmarked by a corner to send a free header past Ekramy with four minutes remaining.
However, the army club's celebrations were short-lived after Samir stooped at the near post to head home a right-wing cross.
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