DUBAI // Pinga's clinical finish on the hour was enough for Al Ahli to clinch a much-needed 1-0 win over Baniyas, the second-placed club, who travelled with the hope of consolidating their position in the Pro League.
The Brazilian midfielder side-stepped Ali Massari before unleashing a powerful left-footer to find the back of the net from 35 yards in front of a sparse crowd of 1,713 at the Rashid stadium last night and it was enough for Ahli to jump into third place on 17 points.
"It was the last game before the league takes another long break and we wanted to end this period on a winning note, which we achieved by playing a better tactical game," said David O'Leary, the Ahli coach.
"We enjoyed more possession and territorial advantage. We created more chances but didn't score in the first half, but the second half fills me with pride. We need to make sure we don't drop this level and then we'll get the rewards.
"To make as many chances as we did tonight shows we're trying to be positive. Sometimes people get carried away, but we're going along nicely. There's lots of spirit in the team."
Ahli enter the break with a game in hand; they have a match yet to make up with Al Wahda.
Ahli suffered an early setback when Aristide Bance, the Burkina Faso forward, was forced to leave the pitch with a hamstring injury on the half-hour. They also ended with 10 players when Ismail al Hammadi picked up his second yellow card and was sent off in the dying seconds of the added time.
Ahli were on the attack for most of the game and their defence, marshalled by Fabio Cannavaro, the former World Footballer of the Year and Italy captain, looked solid and never allowed the visitors to threaten their goal.
Ahmed Khalil had a couple of opportunities to take Ahli to safety but his close-range header was cleared from the line by Sultan al Ghaferi and the 19-year-old forward missed an opportunity when he failed to connect a dipping cross from point-blank range.
Khalil also tested Mohammed Khalef with a low free kick, which the Baniyas stopper did well to block in the second minute.
The closest Baniyas could come was when Fawzi Basheer, the Oman international, saw his shot from the area deflected off Khalid Mohammed, the Ahli defender, in the added time of the first half.
Lotfi el Benzarti, the Baniyas coach, admitted they were beaten by a better team on the night after they failed to improve on 24 points. "Ahli were better prepared and they had us shut out from all sides," said the Tunisian. "They were well-organised in defence and they were also dangerous in attack.
"We had a few chances, a few half-chances, but we didn't really get going.
"It was a close game that could have gone either way. And still we are in a good position midway in the league and we will continue to take one game at a time, which has been our approach all through from last season."