Doha: Al Duhail passed the stern test of Umm Salal and eked out a 2-0 victory, albeit with some difficulty, to move to the top of QNB Stars League table on Sunday.
Nam Tae-Hee’s deflected goal in the 13th minute and Almoez Ali’s added time tap in were enough for the reigning champions, who extended their unbeaten run in the league to 34 matches.
They now have 19 points from seven games, two ahead of Al Sadd who were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Sailiya in the second match of the day. Sailiya are third on 16 points while Umm Salal are fifth with 13.
Sailiya gave Sadd a tough fight and deservedly snatched a point from their fancied opponents as Abdulqadir Ilyas converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute to cancel out Baghdad Bounedjah's 66th-minute strike.
Duhail’s last league defeat came at the hands of Umm Salal way back in February 2017 and although Nabil Maaloul’s side were never really in danger of suffering a similar fate, they were not in total control either.
After a sedate opening period, Duhail unexpectedly took the lead through Nam.
When the nippy South Korean received the ball on the left flank he was surrounded by Umm Salal players and there was no apparent danger on their goal. But Nam dropped his shoulder to get away from a defender as he cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot that took a slight deflection off Mohammed Kasola’s body and wrong-footed Umm Salal goalkeeper Basel Samih.
Three minutes later Duhail again threatened with a swift counter-attack and new signing Edmilson, who have settled into a fine rhythm, missed Almoaez Ali’s through pass, only by inches. The Belgian forward ran down another through ball moments later, and this time he was denied by a desperate stop from Samih.
Almoez then missed a chance to increase the lead, hitting his shot-cum-cross harmlessly across the goal after neatly chesting down Mohammed Moosa’s diagonal ball as Duhail started to assert their supremacy.
But with Yannick Sagbo, the two goal hero of that famous victory at Al Gharafa stadium 20 months back still leading their ranks, Umm Salal can never be too far away from goals and the Ivorian Coast striker showed a glimpse of brute power and skill.
After winning a freekick with a bulldozing run, Sagbo almost buried home the resultant free-kick and it needed a finger-tip save from Khalifa Ababacar at the stroke of half-time to deny the 30-year old powerhouse.
Umm Salal started the second half with much more attacking intent and managed to put Duhail defence under pressure.
Meanwhile, Samih was again called into action as Abdullah Al Ahrak, who had an impressive outing in Duhail midfield, found Edmilson with a delicious pass and the Umm Salal keeper had to be brave and incisive, diving in to save from the feet of the nimble-footed attacker.
Soon after the hour mark, Ababakar had to dive to his right to stop a snapshot from Mahmoud Almawas in one of Umm Salal’s rare attempt on goal.
With Duhail possessing lightning fast counter-attack, Umm Salal weren’t ready to commit fully into attack and Almawas was isolated in Duhail area most of the time and the defensive pairing of Bassam Hisham and Lucas Mendes dealt with him easily.
However they survived a big scare as the game moved towards the last quarter of an hour when Sagbo all of a sudden found himself inside the area with the ball at his feet, but Ababakar was alert to the danger.
Ababacar made an even more telling save when he tipped over a powerful shot Almawas from just outside the box in the 87th. But Duhail had the final say when Almoez connected Youssef El Arabi’s cross with a simple tap in in the third minute of added time.