AJMAN // Roses and chocolates may represent the usual currency of affection on this day, but at the Rashid bin Saeed Stadium, Subait Khater endeared himself to the Al Jazira support yesterday with a match-winning performance to maintain his side's title aspirations.
The experienced Emirati, expertly marshalling the midfield throughout against a dangerous Ajman, saved his best contributions for 16 minutes at the beginning of the second half, firing two supreme goals, worthy of sealing any encounter, to spark a 4-2 victory.
Just for good measure, he created Jazira's fourth goal, too.
"We're very happy for him, because he is such an important player for us," said Paulo Bonamigo, the Jazira coach. "We have been expecting Subait to come back to his level, especially with his free-kicks.
"He is one of the best at this, not only in this country, but in Asia."
Given the way he notched his first, he might extend that territory to include mainland Europe.
Only moments after the restart, Khater struck a dipping free-kick that would draw comparisons with a certain star at Real Madrid.
His second was no less spectacular, the 32 year old unleashing a drive from 30 yards that cannoned off the crossbar and down into the net.
Victory, though, was set in motion within five minutes, when Ibrahim Diaky pounced on a mix-up in the Ajman defence, and the result retains Jazira's status as Al Ain's only genuine rivals for the Pro League trophy.
Nine points remains the gap that requires bridging - the champions had earlier dispatched Al Dhafra - but with only one defeat in 17 matches in all competitions, the Abu Dhabi club can have realistic designs of more than simple capital gains.
"The difference is many points, but we believe we can still fight for the title," Bonamigo said. "We still have a lot of matches to play and, plus, we're going to start a new competition with the Asian Champions League.
"So, for sure, both ourselves and Al Ain will face a lot of problems. But we're sure we can do something in the remainder of the season and compete for the title."
For their part, Ajman should not be dragged into the battle at the other end of the table. Abdulwahab Abdulqadir, the manager, was busy during the recent transfer window, and on this evidence Driss Fettouhi, the Moroccan midfielder, appears an astute signing.
Anyway, when counting Boris Kabi among your charges, anxieties typically diminish.
The Ivorian enhanced his league tally to 13 goals in 15 matches with a double here, although the initial strike mattered somewhat more than the succeeding one.
Kabi had drawn his side level by prodding home from close range following a mistake in the Jazira defence, yet Khater's brilliance, and Ali Salem's fourth for the visitors - a stopped header from his captain's corner - rendered redundant Kabi's late second.
Ajman finished the evening still eight points above the trio scrapping for survival below, a position that does not seem to fill Abdulqadir with particular trepidation.
"In the first half we played well, but a gift in defence cost us a goal, and then they scored early in the second half, which lifted them," the coach said. "Also, we missed many chances to get back into the game.
"But I'm happy with the performance of the team, particularly the new players. We will take this into the next matches."
Al Dhafra 0 Al Ain 3
League leaders Al Ain showed they can get the job done without prolific striker Asamoah Gyan as they picked up three easy points at Al Dhafra last night with a 3-0 victory.
The Ghana frontman, freshly returned to Al Ain after his exploits at the African Cup of Nations, started the match on the bench and his side were already two goals to the good when he was introduced after 70 minutes.
Ismail Ahmed opened the scoring after 14 minutes and Ali Al Wehaibi doubled the scoreline just before half time. Alex Brosque added a third after 77 minutes to ensure the victory, which takes Al Ain to the 40-point mark in the table. Dhafra remain 11th on 15 points.
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