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Playing second fiddle is music to Al Jazira ears

Mabkhoot happy with league position but Al Shaab fire coach Alexandre after 3-0 home defeat to Al Shabab

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira’s goalscoring hero Ali Mabkhoot said he was pleased his goal had helped his side secure victory in the Abu Dhabi derby on Saturday to cement second place in the Etisalat Pro-League after the first round of matches.

In beating traditional rivals Al Wahda 2-0, Al Jazira increased their tally to 27 points from 13 matches, while Al Wahda have 18.

“It is good to end the first round in second place, but still we need a lot of hard work and good luck to snatch the leadership from Al Ain and win the title,” said Mabkhoot, the scorer of Al Jazira’s second goal. “At the moment we are happy with what we achieved in our last matches and taking second place was not an easy task.”

But while the Al Jazira players were happy with their victory, Al Wahda’s had contrasting emotions. “You can’t win matches while not scoring goals,” defender Hamdan Al Kamali said after the match. “Al Jazira scored two goals from the chances they had, while we squandered all our opportunities, so it’s no wonder we lost. We made mistakes in defence and attack, but it’s the technical staff’s duty to address those.”

Esmail Mattar, the Al Wahda captain and UAE national team star, who missed the match because of injury, said: “It was a bit tough for our team to play against Al Ain and then Al Jazira, the two best teams in the country, within only five days. But that is not an excuse. We made mistakes and everyone, the coach [Branko Ivankovic], the players and even the club’s management should shoulder the responsibility.”

Al Jazira have climbed to second in the table thanks mainly to their solid defence, the best in the competition, and have conceded only 12 goals in 13 matches.

Meanwhile, Al Shaab have fired their head coach, the Brazilian Sergio Alexandre, after their 3-0 defeat on Saturday at home to Al Shabab. It was the team’s 10th successive defeat in 13 matches.

“The technical committee of the club met after the match and decided to change the technical staff,” said Abdullah Al Dah, a leading club official. No replacement has been named yet.

Question marks had been raised about how Al Shaab would perform this season after they won promotion to the league via a play-off at the start of the campaign and their tendency to start off well before struggling in the second halves of games quickly became obvious.

In the 12th week of the league, they led 2-0 against Al Wasl before the break, but in the second half conceded three goals to lose 3-2.

Al Shaab have scored 24 goals in 13 matches, only two goals fewer than second-place Al Jazira, but they have conceded 33 goals and lie 12th, one place above the relegation zone.

It was this porousness in defence that led to Alexandre’s downfall.