x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Alhi looking to bounce back with Bance

David O'Leary's Al Ahli face a test of their character against Sharjah tonight, just five days after their 4-0 mauling at the hands of Al Nasr.

Aristide Bance, centre, the Burkino Faso forward, returns to the Al Ahli starting XI for tonight’s match at home to Sharjah after serving a three-game ban for insulting an Al Jazira defender last month.
Aristide Bance, centre, the Burkino Faso forward, returns to the Al Ahli starting XI for tonight’s match at home to Sharjah after serving a three-game ban for insulting an Al Jazira defender last month.

David O'Leary's Al Ahli face a test of their character against Sharjah tonight, just five days after their 4-0 mauling at the hands of Al Nasr.

"A good team should be able to bounce back after a heavy defeat," said O'Leary ahead of the home fixture. "I am learning from every match. I will know how good they are as a team and how strong they are mentally to come back from that disappointing result.

"We did make a few mistakes and were severely punished by Nasr." It was O'Leary's first defeat as Ahli manager since the 2-0 away loss to lowly Al Dhafra in the opening Pro League match in August.

But the 2008 champions' start to the season has been stuttering - they also dropped valuable points in a 2-2 away draw against Kalba, the promoted club - and they are seventh in the table with 11 points from seven games. Luckily for them though, no side has hit top form yet. Al Jazira lead the way with the first seven teams separated by just six points.

O'Leary's side will be strengthened for tonight's home match (KO 8pm) by the return of Aristide Bance, the striker, after a three-match ban for insulting Saleh Basheer, the Jazira defender, on September 24, which also earned him a Dh1,000 fine from the league's disciplinary committee.

"I am really excited to be back," said the Burkina Faso forward. "All the players have the desire to win this game and I hope I will also be able to contribute for the team's success."

Ahli are unbeaten at home with two wins and a draw, against Jazira, to whom they surrendered a two-goal lead after being reduced to 10 men after Bance was sent off. They are level on points with Sharjah, who are unbeaten away from home.

Manuel Cajuda, Sharjah's Portuguese coach, is also looking for a positive response from his players after they picked up just one point from their last two home games. He believes that Ahli's erratic form makes them an unpredictable team to play against.

"We travel with the intentions of winning, like in every game," Cajuda said. "Ahli are a dangerous side but they have shown indifferent form in every game. But we are going to be ready for whatever mood they are in on the night." In tonight's other games, Al Nasr travel to Baniyas (KO 5pm) with their confidence restored after a resounding win over Ahli last time out and bottom club Dubai, still searching for their first points of the season,visit fellow strugglers Al Dhafra (KO 5.10pm).

Meanwhile, in the Asian Under 16 Championship in Uzbekistan the UAE played out a goalless draw against Kuwait in their Group D opener yesterday.

apassela@thenational.ae