Ahly edged closer to winning a seventh consecutive Egyptian Premier League title after claiming a 2-1 victory over bitter foes Ismaily in a thrilling clash at Cairo Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts took the lead midway through the first half, thanks to a goal from mercurial midfielder Mohamed Barakat but Ismaily levelled the score just one minute into the second half courtesy of a header from Amr El-Sulaya.
Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’ handed Ahly a precious win in the 57th minute that took them five points clear of arch-rivals and second-placed Zamalek, who slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Masry earlier in the day, with four matches remaining.
Ahly can virtually wrap up a 36th league title if they overcome the success-starved Zamalek, who have not won the domestic premier competition since 2004, in Wednesday’s Cairo derby.
Ismaily, who won the last of their three league titles in 2002, remain third in the table with 43 points, just two ahead of dark horses Maqassa.
In a frantic start to the anticipated clash, Ahly and Ismaily wasted two clear-cut chances each.
Roared on by the vociferous home crowd, Ahly squandered their first opportunity as early as the seventh minute when striker Emad Meteb ran onto a pass from Gedo to send a curling shot that was blocked by Ismaily keeper Mohamed Fathi.
Ahly’s right-back Ahmed Fathi fired a fierce drive that went just over the bar shortly after, but Ismaily soon recovered from a shaky start to make their presence felt as defender Moatasem Salem was unlucky to see his close-range effort strike the post after an in-swinging free kick from Abdullah Saied.
Ismaily midfielder El-Sulaya also went close with a right-foot volley which narrowly missed the target.
However, it was Ahly who broke the deadlock on 23 minutes when Barakat beat the offside trap upon latching onto a deft through pass from Hossam Ghaly to chip the ball exquisitely over the advancing Fathi and into the net.
Ismaily winger Omar Gamal, who was on the bench, was sent off for protesting against the decision of Belgian referee Luc Wouters to allow the goal to stand although television replays showed that Barakat was played onside by three defenders.
Exciting second half
The second half was equally exciting, with Ismaily notching the equalizer just one minute after the restart to silence the enthusiastic section of Ahly’s die-hard Ultras.
Nigerian striker Ndubuisi Godwin skipped past defender Ahmed El-Sayed on the right flank before whipping in a cross for El-Sulaya to direct a header into the far corner of the net despite being under pressure from combative centre-half Wael Gomaa.
But Ismaily’s celebrations were short-lived as Ahly regained their lead with a 57th-minute goal from Gedo, who is trying to win over the team’s fans after struggling to produce convincing displays since joining from Ittihad of Alexandria last summer
The 2010 African Cup of Nations hero neatly exchanged passes with Mauritania striker Dominique Da Silva, who replaced Meteb in the second half, to slice the defence open and notch home with aplomb.
Ahly coach Manuel Jose opted for a more cautious strategy after his side went ahead, introducing defensive midfielder Moataz Eno instead of Gedo, who was applauded by the fans while on his way to the dugout.
Ismaily had the better possession in the latter stages but could not create any goalscoring opportunities as Ahly claimed a fourth successive victory.