This was a most disheartening way to end the Arabian Gulf League title chase. Al Jazira were abysmal during a home loss to Bani Yas that handed Al Ain a third triumph in four seasons.
The trophy is a thoroughly-deserved one for the Boss, a side much more stable than their erratic challengers. Zlatko Dalic’s men can rejoice now they are 10 points clear, a once-promising battle fading into oblivion with a trio of fixtures still remaining.
– #360fans: Chelsea vs Manchester United – UAE supporters preview
– #360stats: Man Utd's resurgence, Newcastle United's nosedive
A limp second Abu Dhabi derby loss in a row befell second-placed Jazira, who failed to lift themselves when most necessary.
When 24-goal leading marksman Mirko Vucinic and Jonathan Pitroipa struck at the death, both efforts were met with requisite indifference – a rousing comeback was never on the cards.
The hosts were defensively abject, throwing in the towel from the start against opponents with confidence at rock bottom following a seven-match winless run.
Coach Eric Gerets watched perturbed and uncharacteristically-defeated, leaning on the dugout for support not provided by his off-colour players.
“We must go until the bottle is empty,” Gerets said. “But I know it is empty already.
“Even after 3-0, we had chances to score a goal. It is not nice for everybody at Al Jazira, but that is life.
“We are on the ground knocked out, but we will stand up and fight back.”
Much has been invested in opposite number Luis Garcia, Bani Yas showing repeat faith in the Spanish project launched by the former Getafe boss and sports director Jesus Garcia Pitarch.
Friday was a triumph for both men after several painful weeks.
“The results we have had in the last seven games were really disappointing and this result comes as a relief,” Garcia said.
The Sky Blues began with purpose. A feint from countryman Joan Verdu brought him far too much space on the right, a low shot creeping inside the near post on 12 minutes for his ninth goal of a productive debut campaign.
The opener was met with indifference from the deserted Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium terraces and on the pitch. Worse was soon to follow, Verdu again at the heart.
A short-corner routine led to a perfect centre being headed into the top corner by leaping defender Mohamed Jaber.
Even Jazira’s usually-foolproof attack misfired. In response, Vucinic saw an effort smothered and 2015 Asian Cup leading marksman Ali Mabkhout chipped into the side-netting.
The runners-up have stuttered during a time when Al Ain’s continuing AFC Champions League participation was meant to swing the balance in their favour. A late rally added gloss against bottom-placed Ittihad Kalba before a lifeless performance saw Al Wahda prevail last Sunday.
The second half provided more goals but no joy for Gerets’ side. Salt was thrown on the wounds by Bandar Al Ahbabi’s dancing effort, his shot going through the legs of the undeserving Khaseif to make it 3-0. Vucinic then swept home from inside the box following good work from playmaker Manuel Lanzini on 80 minutes, but no revival followed.
Visiting striker Mohamed Nasser was gifted too much room to nutmeg Khaseif – again – for the fourth, Pitroipa sliding in a second for defeated Jazira.
Gerets and his players disappeared quickly down the tunnel, no grace to be salvaged from an appalling match.
Runaway leaders Al Ain must not think they are already Arabian Gulf League champions when they host bottom-placed Ittihad Kalba, according to coach Zlatko Dalic.
The Boss hold a dominant position after they beat Al Nasr and second-placed Al Jazira lost to Al Wahda in the previous round, a seven-point advantage with just four games remaining their reward.
The simplest of tasks appears to await them tonight [Thursday] at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium when they host already-relegated opponents, but Dalic refused to get carried away.
He said: “It will not be easy and it is a very important point for us in the journey to challenge for the title.
“We will enter the match against Ittihad Kalba with respect for the opponent, especially since the opponent has nothing to lose against us. We have to hold caution, deal seriously and have a high concentration.”
Meanwhile, Al Dhafra boss Laurent Banide has urged his side to get the result at home to Wahda to confirm their top-flight status.
The Western Knights can secure a fourth-successive AGL campaign with victory on home soil, regardless of what second-bottom Ajman do tomorrow [Friday] against highflying Al Shabab.
“We are currently working to stay in the UAE Premier League and we will work diligently to achieve a positive result during the match,” the Frenchman said.
Bani Yas head coach Luis Garcia admits he is under pressure but claims he is not worried about his future. The Sky Blues have not won a game in over two months and the 1-0 win over now relegated Ittihad Kalba was their only victory in 10 Arabian Gulf League games.
Spaniard Garcia, however, is remaining stoic, even though they face champions-elect Al Ain, title chasing Al Jazira and fallen champions Al Ahli in their last four games.
Bani Yas travel to Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Friday for a capital city derby against a Jazira side second in the table, but reeling from a 1-0 defeat on Sunday to Al Wahda, which left their title dreams in tatters.
“There is always pressure, but if we win there is less,” said the 42-year-old. “There is no pressure over my future. I feel pressure by not winning for the fans, for the players.”
He insists he is only looking at the rest of the current campaign and not whether he will be in charge next season.
“For now I work in this season and I don’t worry about next season because it’s next season,” he added. “For me the confidence in my players is always full. We are playing like a group, strong, and we wait for a good result.”
Despite losing last time out, he knows the Pride of Abu Dhabi will provide a stern challenge to his side.
He said: “I know it’s difficult for Al Jazira to lose two matches in a row so it is difficult and I have not won in two months, but we will try to get a win.”
Ahmed Mohamed will not play after picking up three yellow cards and there are injury concerns over Haboush Saleh and Bandar Al Ahbabi. Playmaker Joan Verdu said his team-mates should be excited about the big games coming up.
“We need to play difficult matches. I enjoy these games against Al Ain, Al Jazira. The players need to enjoy the big games,” he said.