BANIYAS // For the first time this season, Al Jazira were not the best team on the pitch in Pro League match.
But the Abu Dhabi side maintained their 10-point lead and remain unbeaten after 16 matches with thanks to a Baniyas own-goal in the third minute of injury-time to salvage a point.
The centre-back Fahad Feraish deflected a Jazira cross into his own net just seconds from time to allow a tired, battered Jazira side to escape with a point.
Abel Braga, Jazira’s coach, had expressed concern that his players might not be ready for the match with the second-placed team, which came four days after Jazira won the President’s Cup for the first time. It also was his team’s fifth match in 22 days, in three competitions.
“Pro League, Champions League, President’s Cup, you cannot play so often,” he said. “You saw what happens to a team when it is tired. Players get hurt when they are tired.”
Jazira finished the match without two of its South American stalwarts. Matias Delgado, the influential Argentine midfielder, hobbled off the field just before half-time with an apparent injury to his right leg, and Bare, the Brazilian striker who scored twice in the 4-0 Cup President’s Cup rout over Al Wahda, was too tired to continue after the break, Braga said.
Jazira might not have been anywhere near the Baniyas goal in the final 90 seconds had not Baniyas been down to 10 men after the 75th-minute sending off of the midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, who was shown his second caution by the referee Mohammed al Zarouni, apparently for time-wasting.
“We did not deserve this,” said Mahdi Ali, the new coach of Baniyas. “We deserved to win.
“The match changed when our player got the red card. I don’t think he deserved the red card, or his second yellow, because he was behaving normally. He didn’t delay the game, in my opinion. But this is the referee’s decision.”
On the equalising goal, the Jazira substitute Ahmed Juma sent a cross from the right in the direction of the lanky centre-back Juma Abdullah, who was sprinting into the box. Feraish was running with Abdullah and touched the ball first, putting it past his teammate, the goalkeeper Mohammed Ghuloom.
The goal kept Baniyas from closing to seven points behind Jazira, and enabled the visitors to move a step closer to their first league title.
“We have six matches left,” Ali said. “You can bring out your calculator and see that we have 18 points left and are behind by 10. It is possible, but it will be very hard to win the championship.
“We must win all our games. That is our target now, win them all. I believe we could do it. We are the best team in the league.”
Baniyas certainly were the better team last night. Buoyed by the return of several players who had been injured during a barren first three months of 2011, including Theyab Awana and Abdulrahman, and perhaps even by the Ali's first game in charge.
The Emirati age-group coach knows many of the young Baniyas players well, and the upwardly mobile home side dominated proceedings on a windy night, generating several excellent scoring chances but also showing the energy to defend with 11.
Even Andre Senghor, the tall Senegalese striker, worked from box to box. He still managed to score what looked like the winning goal, in the 65th minute, on a cross from Awana, the 20-year-old midfielder who had a very strong game. It was his league-high 15th goal.
Braga was not willing to concede that his team should have lost. “The draw is deserved,” he said. “Now we keep on as before; the gap in the points is the same.”