Sharjah and Al Ain laid down the gauntlet to fellow Arabian Gulf League pacesetters Al Jazira with impressive wins on Monday night.
The three clubs came into round 12 locked on 25 points at the top of the table, with only the Pride of Abu Dhabi playing on Tuesday.
In the early kick-off, Sharjah returned to winning ways with a dramatic 3-2 victory at struggling Al Wahda.
Uzbekistan midfielder Otabek Shukurov produced a fine first-time finish to open the scoring on 20 minutes. But the scores were levelled up soon after the break thanks to prolific Argentine hit man Sebastian Tagliabue’s close-range header.
The final five minutes would then see Sharjah go ahead through Welliton’s tap-in, Wahda midfielder Mohamed Al Hammadi repeat the trick with another rebound and the visitors claim it at the death through the aforementioned Brazilian striker’s one-on-one.
Meanwhile, Al Ain cruised to a 3-1 victory at Al Wasl that put the nosediving hosts just three points above the drop zone.
Sweden No9 Marcus Berg moved onto 10 top-flight goals for the season with his slotted 19th-minute opener and Brazilian Caio made it 2-0 shortly after the interval with a superb one-touch strike.
An own goal from UAE veteran Ismail Ahmed soon gave Wasl hope, only for Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat’s late strike to seal it.
In the day’s other game, bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah suffered a 10th league defeat of the season courtesy of promoted Ittihad Kalba’s 3-1 win.
A new era officially begins for undefeated Al Jazira on Tuesday night at relegation-threatened Al Dhafra when Damien Hertog takes charge for the first time after a successful caretaker stint.
Hertog, 44, stepped in for fellow Dutchman Marcel Keizer once he abruptly departed in November for Portugal giants Sporting Lisbon after only five months in charge. A 2-1 victory in the Abu Dhabi-derby against Al Wahda and 6-0 humbling of lowly Emirates Club were registered in the Arabian Gulf League by the ex-assistant coach, impressing the club’s hierarchy sufficiently to confirm his permanent hiring late on Sunday night.
“In line with the club’s efforts to support the sports teams and to achieve more successes, Al Jazira announces the appointment of assistant coach Damien Hertog as the team’s coach,” a statement read about a deal that is expected to initially run until June 2019.
“This comes from the interest of the management to ensure stability and provide all the requirements for the success of the team in the next stage.
“The management’s decision is in recognition of Damien’s work since the beginning of the season, which reflects positively on the performance of the team.
“It is an extension of the confidence in the coach from the management, players and fans. It is also to promote the technical gains and maintain the sporting approach of the Pride of Abu Dhabi.”
Hertog’s only previous experience in charge came in 2010/11 with Dutch semi-professionals Excelsior Maassluis. Several different postings in Feyenoord’s youth set-up would follow, prior to a two-month spell underneath compatriot Mario Been at Cyprus’ APOEL from June-July 2017.
Ex-Ajax supremo Keizer then selected him for his technical staff in Abu Dhabi last June.
Hertog has become the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s third-successive Dutch leader.
Henk ten Cate worked wonders at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium from December 2015 to May 2018, winning the 2015/16 President’s Cup and 2016/17 AGL.
Meanwhile, Al Nasr’s temporary duo of Ali Murad and Caio Zanardi will be in the dugout when promoted Fujairah visit Dubai.
Ivan Jovanovic was sacked, for the second time, in the wake of last week’s 1-0 loss to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club. This result left the big-spending Blue Wave down in 10th heading into round 12.
UAE right-back Ahmed Al Yassi admitted change had to occur.
“Our results have not been satisfactory in the last two rounds,” he said after Jovanovic became the seventh managerial casualty of the season. “We have to show fighting spirit and total discipline in order to get through this period.”
The evening’s remaining fixtures see Shabab Al Ahli try to gatecrash the leaders when they travel to top-flight returnees Bani Yas. Emirates will attempt to escape the drop zone with just a third victory of the season, against Ajman.
Al Ain’s quest to impress upon this month’s Club World Cup debut has seen them conclude a free transfer for Mali defensive midfielder Tongo Doumbia and close on the complicated recruitment of ex-Sporting Lisbon playmaker Ruben Ribeiro.
The Boss’ victory in the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League granted them a berth as the home entrant for the tournament, from December 12-22. This global event has no restrictions on the use of foreigners, unlike the UAE’s top flight that only allows the registration of four non-Emiratis.
Ex-Dinamo Zagreb anchor Doumbia, 29, has signed a two-year arrangement, while a successful conclusion is imminently expected on drafting in Ribeiro. The 31-year-old unilaterally terminated his Sporting contract in the wake of May’s assault on the training ground by angry supporters, though the Portuguese club contest his right to do this and have demanded any suitors pay a €62 million release clause.
These switches will reignite rumours about the long-term futures of half of their resident non-UAE quartet. Brazilian forward Caio has been linked to Porto and his deal expires next summer, while Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat is coveted by Al Ahly plus a host of Saudi Professional League-outfits.
“As for Ruben’s file, we are still awaiting the approval letter from FIFA officials on our letter addressed to them through the UAE Football Association and the Players Status Committee to approve the registration of the player,” said chairman Ghanem Al Hajeri.
“The player, himself, has an official document issued by the Portuguese Sports Court and certified by the Portuguese Football Association stipulating that the he a free player. All is on the right track.
“We confirm that the registration processes for both Ruben and Doumbia kicked off on September 31.”
Al Ain play New Zealand’s Team Wellington in December 12’s first-round clash at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Holders Real Madrid are the headline entrant among the seven regional Champions League winners, plus Al Ain.