Al Ain took a big step towards the Adnoc Pro League title on Saturday after the leaders defeated closest challengers Al Wahda 1-0 at Al Nahyan stadium to extend their lead at the top to seven points.
Togolese forward Kodjo Laba scored the winner eight minutes from time to take his tally at the top of the scoring charts to 18 goals and his team’s points total to 46 with seven matches left.
“It’s a good position for us to be at this stage of the competition but no way it guarantees us the league title,” Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa said.
“Of course it was a very decisive victory for us to be comfortable in front but we still have to maintain that lead with 21 points to play for. We have got over a big obstacle and we have a few more, which we hopefully can overcome.”
Al Ain have a run of challenging games coming up against Al Wasl, whom they play next, followed by Shabab Al Ahli, Sharjah and Al Jazira.
“The league is still wide open because anything can happen in the next seven games,” Eisa said. “We have built a pretty good lead and maintained it from the outset, and obviously we want to preserve it for as long as possible. There are no weak teams in the league but we are very hopeful.”
As expected between the league's top two teams this season, this was a closely-contested match, with both sides creating several scoring opportunities in front of a capacity crowd.
Laba broke the deadlock when he picked up the ball on the left-wing, before beating Ala Zhir to curl a stunning shot into the top left corner of the net that sent the Al Ain fans into wild celebration.
In the early game on Saturday, Ghanem Ahmed and Ali Saleh fired were on target in the second half for Al Wasl in the 2-0 win over Shabab Al Ahli at Rashid stadium.
A mistake from goalkeeper Majed Nasser allowed Wasl to open the scoring when he misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing Ahmed's free kick to nestle into the back of his net in the 67th minute.
Saleh sealed his side's victory in the 83rd minute with another free-kick, this time it was a curled effort from about 30 yards into the top left corner of the net.