DUBAI // Josef Hickersberger received the positive response he asked from his players last night as they held on for a 2-0 win at Al Wasl. The Al Wahda manager had called for a reaction following their embarrassing 5-1 defeat at Kuwaiti club Al Arabi on Wednesday, and he got it.
That defeat had come in an inconsequential game of the GCC Clubs Championships. The Abu Dhabi club had already qualified for the quarter-finals of the competition where they meet Wasl again on May 15.
And that makes last night's win even more valuable. "We defended much better than the game in Kuwait against Al Arabi. Wasl created a lot of chances but we denied them," Hickersberger said.
"In general I am happy my team put in a good reaction after the huge defeat in the last game. I wanted to see a good reaction and that's what they did. So my congratulations to the team."
Hugo struck the opener for the visitors and Saeed Al Kathiri added the second in added time to seal the three points which take Wahda to fifth in the points table.
But perhaps the biggest statement of the night came from the absent Wasl supporters.
Playing their home game at Al Nasr's ground because of sanctions over the misbehaviour of their fans, the Wasl team walked out to a virtually empty stadium yesterday.
The Ultras, as the Wasl supporters call themselves, had threatened a boycott of the remaining games in protest over the two-match ban from playing at home.
During Wasl's last Pro League match, against traditional rivals Nasr, the visiting fans had staged a 10-minute walkout, leaving just a handful in the stands to unfurl a banner which asked, "Is this how you want the stadiums to look?"
The Al Maktoum Stadium looked a lot more desolate yesterday. The official count was 343.
The Argentine midfielder Mariano Donda had a good chance midway through the first half when Adel Al Hosani, the Wahda keeper, made a brilliant airborne stop from his curled effort.
Hugo then headed Wahda into the lead in the 40th minute.
The Brazilian did most of the work for the goal, making a break from almost inside his own box before passing it wide to Salem Saleh, who sent in a return cross.
Wasl should have equalised before the end of the half, but Rashed Essa dragged the ball wide. Diego Maradona, the coach, who did not leave his seat in those 45 minutes, casually motioned with his hands to show which way his man should have gone.
Mohammed Reza Khalatbari, the Iranian, missed two more decent chances in the second half and Wasl's saga of misses continued into the final seconds, even after Al Kathiri had netted Wahda's second in added time.
Hickersberger looks set to leave Wahda and the Austrian said the club need to make changes if they are to challenge for the title they last won in 2010.
"Wahda are not as good as before. We have not signed any good players and we gave away good players like Hamdan Al Kamali and Basheer Saeed.
"If the injured players come back, Wahda are good enough to play for fifth or sixth, but not good enough to compete for titles. So Wahda need a few changes," he said.
"But let me make this clear, as long as I am coach, I will give my best until the last minute, last match and last training. I hope we can get some good results in these last few matches and then I will say 'Thank you, Ma Salaam'."