Zamalek fan favourite Ferjani Sassi came off the bench to curl a delightful late winner as the leaders eked out a 2-1 victory over a plucky Ismaily side in the Egyptian Premier League on Wednesday.
The Tunisian midfielder beat Ismaily's keeper with an unstoppable first-timer with two minutes remaining to give Zamalek a barely deserved victory after they struggled to match their opponents' silky game.
Sassi's valuable goal will increase pressure on Zamalek's board to sort out his future, with the 28-year-old's current deal set to run out at the end of the season. The club has yet to accept Sassi's financial demands.
Zamalek went ahead early in the second half, thanks to a goal from deep-lying forward Youssef 'Obama' Ibrahim.
Shoukri Naguib brought Ismaily level after a recurring mistake from Zamalek keeper Mohamed Abou-Gabal, who was shaky throughout.
Zamalek, who were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to MC Alger in their opening African Champions League group-stage game last Friday, moved eight points clear of defending champions Ahly on top of the league table.
However, the Red Devils will overtake Zamalek with a one-point lead if they win their three matches in hand.
Ismaily, who arguably produced their best display in an otherwise disastrous season, had their woes compounded as they lie second from bottom in the table with eight points from 12 matches.
Key duo benched
Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco surprisingly started with Sassi and Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki on the bench, depriving Zamalek of much-needed creativity.
Zamalek were taken aback by Ismaily's surprise bold approach as the visitors pressed their opponents high up the pitch and produced a first-half show that belied their poor position in the table.
Ismaily looked dangerous every time they poured forward and they were unlucky not to open the scoring on a couple of occasions in the first half.
They almost went ahead after 28 minutes when Abou-Gabal mis-controlled a back pass from Tarek Hamed on the edge of the area.
Ismaily winger Mohamed El-Shami robbed him but his attempted chip narrowly missed an open net.
Namibian striker Benson Shilongo outjumped Zamalek's central defender Mahmoud Alaa to head a right-wing cross against the bar on the stroke of halftime, with the hosts once again given a let-off.
Zamalek scored against the run of play five minutes into the second period when Ahmed Zizo floated in a free kick which Alaa met with a shot that forced a fine save from Ismaily keeper Mohamed Fawzi, only for Obama to slot home on the rebound.
Obama missed a golden chance to double the lead shortly after while Tunisian forward Seifeddine Jaziri had a goal disallowed for an apparent foul on Fawzi.
Naguib leveled the score on 63 minutes with an angled low shot that caught out the poorly-positioned Abou-Gabal, but Sassi came to Zamalek's rescue at the death.
He met a lay-off from Obama with a swerving effort that nestled into the top corner of the net, handing Zamalek their second straight league win.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)