A double from forward Mohamed Sherif earned Ahly a precious 2-1 victory over Zamalek in an entertaining Egyptian Premier League clash on Sunday as the Red Devils made light of a string of injuries to assert their Cairo derby dominance.
Ahly, missing several key players including goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi, took an early lead after Sherif made the most of a defensive lapse to fire home.
Zamalek's veteran winger Mahmoud Shikabala levelled the score with a beauty that brought back memories of his stunning strike in the 2-1 loss to Ahly in the Champions League final last season but Sherif had the last laugh, restoring his team's advantage almost immediately with a long-range strike.
All goals were scored in the first half but the second was equally entertaining as Zamalek piled on pressure and Ahly uncharacteristically sat back to protect their slender advantage.
Zamalek wasted some fine chances but will mostly rue a penalty miss by spot-kick specialist Mahmoud Alaa, whose tame effort down the middle was saved by Ahly's stand-in keeper Ali Lotfi.
Lotfi rose to the occasion and proved a perfect replacement for El-Shennawi, having also produced a brilliant one-handed save at the death to smother a goal-bound header from Alaa, who looked dejected at failing to atone for his penalty miss.
Ahly's win puts them in the driving seat as they seek to win the league for a sixth consecutive season. Although they lie second in the table with 30 points, three short of leaders Zamalek, they will go six points clear on top if they win their three rescheduled games.
Sherif's double salvo
Ahly overwhelmed their opponents from the outset, displaying an intricate passing game as in-form playmaker Magdi Afsha dictated their build-up play with his astute through balls.
Sherif almost scored a first-minute opener when he cut ahead of Zamalek defender Mahmoud El-Wensh and sent a sliding effort just wide after being found by a low cross from natural central defender Ayman Ashraf, who impressed as a left-back.
Hussein El-Shahat also just failed to make proper contact with an inviting long ball from central midfielder Amr El-Sulaya as it looked a matter of when, not if, Ahly will open the scoring.
The breakthrough arrived in the 21st minute when Ashraf accidently got the better of Zamalek's Achraf Bencharki before feeding the unmarked Sherif, who swiveled and beat Mahmoud Gennesh at his near post with a powerful shot.
Shikabala, who was an otherwise peripheral figure, brought Zamalek level in the 31st minute with a carbon-copy of his Champions League final strike. Collecting the ball on the right, he cut inside a couple of challengers and planted an unstoppable curling shot into the far top corner.
While Lotfi was not to blame for Shikabala's equaliser, Zamalek fans will point finger at Gennesh at the other end after his slow reaction allowed a piledriver from Sherif, who gathered a wayward back pass from off-form forward Youssef Ibrahim, to squirm past him three minutes later.
In the second half, Ahly were pegged back as Zamalek frantically searched for an equaliser.
Referee Mahmoud El-Banna, the first Egyptian official to take charge of the Cairo derby in three years, pointed to the spot after a VAR review in the 57th minute as Ahly defender Rami Rabia was adjudged to have pushed Zamalek substitute Seifeddine Jaziri, although television replays suggested that the contact was minimal.
Lotfi dived to his right to keep out Alaa's tame penalty and denied him again in stoppage time as Ahly ran out winners to compound the misery of Zamalek, who only have the domestic competition to fight for following their group-stage elimination from the Champions League.