Remember the flimsy Al Jazira, the flawed entertainers equally capable of an implosion or a moment of brilliance?
To veteran Dutch coach Henk ten Cate’s immense credit, this dichotomous behaviour has largely been eradicated during a year-long salvage job to savour.
Yet one moment from the Arabian Gulf League’s surprise pacesetters on Saturday night proved old habits die hard and helped condemn them to an opening 2-0 defeat of the season in a forgettable match at Al Nasr.
There was no semblance of sensibility in star man Ali Mabkhout’s ludicrous attempt at a back-heel-volleyed clearance from a corner. This flippant decision – similar to left-back Salim Rashid’s later dismissal for two bookings – just past the hour mark would have frustrating consequences.
Centre-back Khalifa Mubarak was the grateful recipient, his header from the looping ball helping the improving Blue Wave move within four points of the top three. Added joy also came from winger Jonathan Pitroipa’s close-range finish against wide open former employers to seal the spoils at the death.
But this is not the time to panic. Top spot – with a game in hand – remains the President Cup holder’s preserve because of a superior head-to-head record against Al Wasl, with one match at home to Al Dhafra left until the halfway break.
Quite the upturn from the relegation battlers Ten Cate inherited.
For yesterday’s victors, the future looks bright. Animated boss Dan Petrescu’s five wins from seven top-flight fixtures validates October’s painful decision to dispense with Ivan Jovanovic.
Pitroipa’s return from injury is key. The likes of Morocco playmaker Abdelaziz Barrada, goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh and even controversy-riddled striker Wanderley should soon follow.
A dreary first half produced little excitement. Only a deflected shot from visiting South Korea centre midfielder Park Jong-woo threatened to break the deadlock.
The entertainment barely improved after the break. Mubarak’s scrappy first goal in 49 top-flight games fitted perfectly, prior to Pitroipa’s moment to savour deep into injury time.