ABU DHABI // After scoring three goals in two matches since his return to action after an off-field incident, the veteran striker Fernando Baiano is once again looked upon as Al Wahda's leading man.
The assessments of him being "unfit to play 90 minutes" and his future "in doubt at the club" are all behind Baiano now, after the Brazilian was the match-winner in the club's last two games.
He scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Sharjah in the Pro League, and struck the first two in their 4-0 demolition of Dubai in the President's Cup last Saturday.
"Baiano needed time to get back to full fitness. That is what I meant when I said he was not fit to play for the full 90 minutes," said Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach.
"He had an injury issue that led to his fitness problems at the start of the season.
"He has been working hard and I expect his performance to get better and better.
"The important thing about him is he still knows where the goal is. He may not be able to score in every game, which we don't expect, but he definitely can contribute to the team once he regains full fitness."
The match-winning performances by Baiano, 32, have come after being released from police custody for his involvement in a car accident on November 29. His driving licence has been suspended for three months, and he was also fined Dh27,000.
Wahda play Baniyas tonight in an away league game, and it marks the start of a challenging 17 days for Hickersberger's side.
They are up against Al Wasl on December 30, followed by the capital derby against Al Jazira on January 5 and another battle with Wasl, on January 9, in the President's Cup quarter-finals.
"We have managed to move into a decent position in the league, which we never expected because of the problems we had early in the season," the Austrian said.
"We had a lot of injuries and several of our players were called up for national duty. Now on 12 points and in joint fourth from seven games, I feel we have done quite well.
"We have some very tough games coming up, starting with Baniyas. It is a critical period for us. Baniyas have had a similar problem or may be worse than us because they had also to cope up with the tragic death of Theyab Awana in a car accident.
"They also invested on a real superstar, David Trezeguet, and unfortunately it didn't work out for them. That's why they are in this position in the league."
Trezeguet, the 1998 World Cup winner with France was released on the player's request after limited and ineffectual action.
"Now they are on the way up," said Hickersberger. "This was evident in their 1-0 win over Al Nasr in the President's Cup, where they had 70 per cent of possession."
Baniyas also fired Jorvan Vieira, who was signed on a two-year contract in the summer.
They didn't win in seven games under the Brazilian, in both the league and the Etisalat Cup.
Vieira now coaches Sharjah while Gabriel Calderon is in charge at Baniyas.
Hickersberger said Vieira took the blame for the problems that Baniyas had earlier in the season.
"However, I have a high opinion of the quality of their team and we need to play much better than we did against Dubai for a good result for us," he said.