Al Ain did not seem to miss Asamoah Gyan as they eased past Al Wahda 1-0.
Al Ain profligacy a concern for coach Cosmin Olaroiu
AL AIN // When the fixture is a derby, normally both sides will want all hands to the pumps.
Gyan remains on duty at the African Cup of Nations with Ghana, who play in the third-place game this weekend. He tweeted "good luck to us" to his Al Ain teammates before the match. As it developed, he perhaps was in greater need, as Ghana lost their semi-final to Zambia 1-0 and the striker had an early penalty saved.
Wahda played without several key players, and Al Ain could have ran away with the match had they converted more than one of their many chances, prompting the home team's coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, to concede his disappointment with his team's profligacy in front of goal.
"I've been disappointed for a couple of games now, but it's up to the players," he said. "Nobody else can have the last touch except the players. I also am happy that we arrived there, because it means we played well enough to make chances. But we missed a lot. A lot.
"I'm very happy we won because the team that wastes more chances usually loses."
No one argued over whom was the better side. "The match was exhausting, but we deserved to win," Olaroiu said. "We controlled most of the match, about 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the match."
Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, said: "It was not an undeserved victory for Al Ain."
Yasser Al Qahtani, the Saudi captain, showed new signs of emerging from a season-long slump with a quality goal in the 11th minute and Al Ain were rarely threatened subsequently as the nine-time champions took their lead back to six points over Al Nasr, who play at Ajman tonight.
Al Ain lost 2-0 to Nasr in their previous league match, but they again looked skilled, organised and dangerous in attack, as they did while going unbeaten for the first 11 matches of the Pro League season.
Also, their defensive midfield duo of Mirel Radoi and Helal Saeed dominated play in the centre of the pitch, cutting off nearly all service to Wahda's forwards, Fernando Baiano and Ismail Matar, as well as the often dangerous winger, Hugo.
A modicum of excitement in the second half was the direct result of Al Ain's inability to fire home a clinching goal despite numerous chances.
Wahda put up limited resistance. They began with a patchwork back four that badly botched an Al Ain attack that produced Al Qahtani's goal.
Ali Al Wehaibi, the Al Ain winger, walked the ball into the corner of the box, and chipped a short cross to Al Qahtani, just outside the six-yard box, and the man marking him, the little-used Omar Ali, made a late and ill-advised attempt to trap him offside.
But Al Qahtani was both onside and alone when he trapped Al Wehaibi's pass on his chest, dropped it to waist level and pivoted to blast a shot past Mutaz Abdulla on 11th minutes.
With Magrao, the Brazilian midfielder, still out with injury, and Khalid Jalal done after 19 minutes with what Hickersberger fears is a serious knee injury, Wahda's midfield also was a shambles.
Al Ain had more good news in the second half when Omar Abdulrahman, the little midfielder who led the team in scoring last season, made his first appearance this season following knee surgery.
He came on in the 64th minute and looked fully healed, if perhaps not quite fully fit.
Hickersberger said his team will not give up on the league title season, despite now falling 12 points behind league leaders Al Ain.
"The players have to be professional, so whether we can win the title or not they have to improve and work hard," said the Austrian
"That's business in football. Of course, we still have a chance to win the President's Cup, already won the Super Cup, so it's not so bad, the situation we're in."