The gauntlet laid down before them, Al Ahli did what potential champions should: they went out and blew past their latest Arabian Gulf League opponents.
Al Ahli answer the bell
AL AHLI 4 BANIYAS 1
Al Ahli - Khalil 45’, Grafite 61’, Al Hamadi 75’, Ciel 86’ (pen)
Baniyas - Habou 69’
Man of the Match - Ciel (Al Ahli)
An hour before the division’s pacesetters hosted Baniyas at the Rashid Stadium on Thursday night, Ahli’s closest threats in the race for the 2013/14 title each clawed nearer the summit.
However, if victories for Al Shabab and Al Jazira had caused some consternation among Cosmin Olaroiu’s side they hid it well; in fact, it seemed only to sharpen their focus. An utterly dominant display was lacking simply in converted opportunities.
That league lead, which had been temporarily cut to three points, was soon restored to six.
“I don’t know if the players knew before the match about the other results,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant coach manning the dugout in the continued absence of the suspended Olaroiu.
“We try not to tell them, to not put more pressure on them.
“If they know, maybe they create a good atmosphere and are more motivated, and if they don’t, they stay relaxed for the game ahead.
“But for us, as I keep repeating, it’s very important to look only at our team and our results.
“We depend only on us.”
Just as the table conveys, Ahli are the UAE’s most dependable side. That they managed just the four goals against Baniyas seemed almost unfair.
From the outset, they penned the visitors deep towards their own goal, pouring forward in search of the opener. When it came, the only surprise was that it took until the stroke of half time, Ahmed Khalil heading home Ismail Al Hamadi’s whipped cross.
After the break, Grafite, Al Hamadi and the ever-impressive Ciel – the Brazilian scoring a late penalty - filled their boots, too.
Even Haboush Saleh’s 69th-minute tap-in for Baniyas, the result of an awful blunder from Saif Yousuf, the Ahli goalkeeper, barely knocked the league leaders from their stride.
Such is the perfectionism that propels the Dubai club, though, that Raducan still found cause for complaint.
“We created many chances, but again we made a silly mistake and put Baniyas back in the game,” he said. “But everything is good when we finish good.”
They look set to put the finishing touches on the title race.
As it stands, Ahli enter the division’s one-month break as champions-elect, although in the intervening period they must contest the Asian Champions League and League Cup.
Yet the league will not stray far from thoughts.
“It’s one more step in front,” Raducan said, calling the remainder of the league fixtures “seven more finals” in a “very difficult programme”.
He added: “So we must be very concentrated on this.
“Now we forget about the league. We must concentrate on Asian Champions League. It’s a new competition, against very, very good teams and we must be ready for that.”
Granted, the continental tournament represents a significant step up in class, but Ahli can approach next week’s trip to Al Hilal, the Saudi Arabian heavyweights, buoyed by their rude health.
“It was a very difficult match,” said Adnan Hamad, the new Baniyas coach.
“Ahli are a complete team.”
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