Former Swansea star Pablo Hernandez a perfect fit for ambitious Al Nasr
There was a moment deep into the second half of Friday night’s Arabian Gulf Cup final that perfectly encapsulated Al Nasr’s newfound fluidity.
Pablo Hernandez, the 29-year-old former Spain international, was making his first appearance for his new club and had received a pass across the edge of the penalty box. Without looking, he let it run through his legs before deftly flicking it towards goal. Brett Holman, having anticipated the clip, was already bombing through and fired a shot at goal.
The Nasr captain’s strike was saved, but it proved the two former Premier League players were operating on the same wavelength. It was little surprise Nasr beat Sharjah, but the style in which they ran out 4-1 winners was unexpected. Hernandez, who had not been tipped to start, had an assist and a goal inside the opening eight minutes.
Holman, a player renowned in the Arabian Gulf League for his tenacity, later spoke of how he had been impressed not only by his new teammate’s calmness on the ball, but also his willingness to put in a shift and press high up the field.
“In the first half, Pablo had gone on a run through three defenders and each time it looked like the ball was out of his reach yet he kept going,” Holman said. “That sums him up a little bit. Fair enough, it was his first game, but I thought he showed just how well he can fit in here because we are a working class team and that’s what we thrive on. He was magnificent.”
The former Swansea and Valencia midfielder only signed for the Dubai-based club on Thursday, arriving from Al Arabi of Qatar. Yet he slotted in as if he had been with Nasr for months and showed an understanding with Holman that bodes well going into the second half of the AGL season, which resumes on Wednesday.
“It is not normal that a first game with a new team is a final, but I enjoyed it a lot,” said Hernandez, who added he knew Holman from the Australian’s time at Aston Villa. “I tried to work hard for the team and we played a very good game. Now is the time to enjoy the victory, but in four or five days we play in the league and we must be ready.”
Nasr welcome Baniyas to Maktoum Stadium and having added the Arabian Gulf Cup to last May’s Gulf Clubs Championship, Holman is now looking to transfer their knock-out form into the league. Ivan Jovanovic’s side currently sit six points off the top, with joint-leaders Al Ain holding a game in hand.
“It’s a long run and we have five months to go,” Holman said. “To get two trophies in such a short period is fantastic, especially given that when I arrived here I’d heard about their history and how they hadn’t won anything for so long. So we need to enjoy this, but we also must remain switched on. We are not too far off the top and have to give it a shake to see where we wind up. We have proved now that we can match with any team in the country.”
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Updated: January 31, 2015 04:00 AM