Ten-man Al Duhail SC showed plenty of character and grit, traits that often distinguish champions from the rest, but still had to be content with a 1-1 draw against Al Sailiya in an exciting QNB Stars League match at Al Ahli stadium on Thursday.
Duhail are still top of the table with 29 points, but second-placed Al Rayyan can cut the deficit to just one with a victory against Al Ahli later on Thursday.
With winger Almoez Ali suspended for the game after accumulating four yellow cards, coach Djamel Belmadi deployed Ismael Mohammed, who had been playing as an attacking right back, as a winger while Mohamed Mosa moved to the extreme right side in his four-man defence.
Bassam Hisham came to the central defence from midfield while young Abdullah Abdulsalam played in the midfield.
Despite the chopping and changing, Duhail's penchant for attack remained the same and it did not take long for Luiz Martin to test Sailiya keeper Abdraman Mahamat with a fierce shot.
Then it was captain Youssef Msakni's turn as he combined with Ismael Mohammed and Nam to split open Sailiya's defence, but his shot was wide.
Ismael then missed another glorious chance after being treated with a delicious pass from the midfield, hitting his shot inches wide of the target.
Moments later, Duhail suffered a big blow when their goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar handled the ball outside his area and was shown a direct red.
Luiz Martin's back pass for Hisham came at an awkward height and the Qatar U-23 player's first-time header, directed at his keeper, was well short.
Sailiya's Valentin Marius sensed the opportunity and tried to flick the ball above an advancing Ababacar, who was forced to use his hands and referee had no doubt about his decision.
Wagner Rebeiro then almost piled on Duhail's misery, but his resultant freekick flicked the top of the bar and went out of play, with substitute goalkeeper Mohammed Ahmed completely beaten.
Duhail continued on the offensive despite the numerical setback and in the 43rd minute, Mohamed Moosa saw his powerful shot defected behind the goal for a corner.
Ismael then snatched the ball inside Ahli area and surged ahead menacingly, but his final shot was disappointing.
Duhail came back from the breather with their usual attacking instinct intact and were rewarded instantly when Sailiya defender Dragos Grigore underhit his back pass for Mahamat and the Sailiya goalkeeper had to foul Msakni who reached to the ball first.
Youssef El Arabi converted emphatically from the spot to take his tally to 16.
However, Duhail's joy was shortlived as Sailiya forward Mohmad Mdether dispossessed Msakni in the midfield and passed the ball to his strike partner Ribeiro who made no mistake with his left-footed shot.
Duhail continued to attack, looking for a winner and even though Sailiya goal survived some close calls, at the other end Mdether was proving too dangerous as Duhail backline tired.
After El Arabi and Nam Tae Hee missed chances to put the reigning champions ahead, substitute keeper Ahmed came to their rescue with a solid save to deny Hamad Mohammed.