DUBAI // It is debatable whether Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, found time this week to enjoy a little festive cheer, but his side, decked out in their Christmas best, offered him a belated present tonight in the Etisalat Cup.
Nasr, without a victory in four matches and in need of something to warm their spirits, departed Dubai's Sports and Cultural Club Stadium with three precious points and a renewed sense of optimism.
The win moves the Oud Metha club third in Group A after four matches, below second-placed Al Ain only on goal difference, although the Pro League champions can again pull clear when they host Al Shaab this evening.
"It was not easy for my players coming into this match as for a long time we hadn't won and have endured a difficult period," said a contented Zenga afterwards. "So we needed to get something positive from this game.
"However, to continue moving forward we still need to work hard. We won't leave anything to chance. But this win is very important. I hope the result will give my players the motivation to play well in the future."
A forgettable first half threatened to not provide any encouragement at all to either side. In fact, the only noteworthy entry in its 45 minutes was that Nasr were making a first appearance in their new, grey and blue kit.
It was hardly the prominent red usually preferred by the typical provider of gifts at this time of year, so Nasr had to make do with Jamal Hussain playing Santa Claus instead.
Only minutes after half time the Nasr forward, deputising for the absent Bruno Correa, evaded attention on the edge of the Dubai penalty area to expertly curl the ball past the outstretched arm of Jamal Ali, the home goalkeeper, and give the visitors the lead.
Hussain raced to the touchline to revel with his manager, who barely had time to high-five the rest of his back-room staff before he was twice more removed in celebration from his dugout.
Dubai's defence were first pulled apart on 61 minutes by cunning play from Giuseppe Mascara, the Italian's sublime reverse pass releasing Humaid Abbas for the midfielder to nonchalantly flick the ball over the onrushing Ali and slot home from close range.
Then, moments later, Humaid Ahmed raced clear of the hosts' back line to fire high into the goal and all but guarantee victory. There was still time, though, for Hassan Mohammed to provide an extra layer of wrapping to the result, the Nasr striker beating his opponents' challenges and the final whistle to add a fourth from the most acute of angles.
Predictably, Zenga used his post-match comments to guard against complacency. Nasr sit fifth in the Pro League, 12 points behind Al Ain at the summit, and their coach would not be drawn on an unlikely title bid.
"All my focus now is on what we'll do tomorrow," he said. "I wasn't afraid of the future before this match and I'm not afraid after it. I don't care what is said about Nasr in the media or what other people say.
"I concentrate only on the work I do with my players and what happens on the pitch."
For Dubai, the defeat extended their winless streak to seven matches in all competitions, leaving Rene Marsiglia, their French coach, searching for answers.
"The result is a shock. I feel like someone has slapped me in the face," he said.
"I am very sad because we worked extremely hard in the beginning of the season yet have not won for a long time.
"We are putting in the hard work on the training pitch, but once we get to the game we struggle. I don't know what's happening with the players, but I need to find a way to refresh their minds."
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