An­other Ahed in­jury gives Ne­jmeh up­per hand

Haidar is the lat­est ca­su­alty in a grow­ing list of ab­sen­tees for the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By James Jabra

BEIRUT: The in­jury malaise that has af­flicted Ahed for the brunt of this sea­son reared its ugly head again this week fol­low­ing the un­timely news that Mo­ham­mad Haidar will miss the po­ten­tially sem­i­nal clash with lead­ers Ne­jmeh Satur­day.

Haidar is the lat­est ca­su­alty in a grow­ing list of ab­sen­tees for the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, who have re­mark­ably man­aged to re­main neck and neck with their city ri­vals de­spite their de­pleted num­bers.

The blow couldn’t have come at a worse time for Bassam Mar­mar’s side, with Haidar play­ing some of his best foot­ball prior to a mus­cle strain against Shabab alSa­hel last week.

The totemic play­maker is ex­pected to miss up to three weeks of ac­tion, and cru­cially will have to watch from the stands as Ahed look to wrest control of the ti­tle race from Ne­jmeh.

It is rather symp­to­matic of Ahed’s star­crossed cam­paign, with in­jury du­ally threat­en­ing to de­rail their ti­tle de­fense while dec­i­mat­ing their squad.

The 29-year-old joins the likes of Martin To­shev, Nour Man­sour, Haitham Faour and Ah­mad Zreik in swap­ping the lush sur­face of a foot­ball pitch for the frigid chill of the treat­ment ta­ble at some point this sea­son.

So evenly matched have both clubs been, that Haidar’s ab­sence has tilted the ad­van­tage in Ne­jmeh’s fa­vor.

But their im­ped­i­ments notwith­stand­ing, Ahed have hith­erto matched Ne­jmeh stride for stride. The fine mar­gins have treated us to an ab­sorb­ing two-horse race, where a gos­samer tech­ni­cal­ity is all that sep­a­rates the cap­i­tal pair.

Ne­jmeh are ahead only on goals scored, with both sides amass­ing 25 points from nine matches and shar­ing iden­ti­cal goal dif­fer­ences in their un­beaten starts to the sea­son.

Ne­jmeh are the league’s most pro­lific out­fit with 19 goals, while Ahed boast the best de­fen­sive record af­ter con­ced­ing just three times. It should make for a fas­ci­nat­ing en­counter, though Ahed’s lat­est set­back has un­doubt­edly given Ne­jmeh a leg up for the 21:00 p.m. kick­off.

Con­trary to his op­po­site num­ber, Ne­jmeh coach Boris Bun­jak will ben­e­fit from a clean bill of health af­ter goal­keeper Ab­bas Hasan and mid­fielder Idrissa Niang both passed late fit­ness tests.

Ne­jmeh skip­per Hasan Maa­touk, mean­while, will need no ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion as he aims to add to his dis­ap­point­ing tally of two goals in seven league ap­pear­ances.

The Ahed youth prod­uct is the tie’s lead­ing goalscorer with 14, though 12 of those came with his for­mer side.

Maa­touk scored the win­ning goal in Ne­jmeh’s 1-0 over Racing last time out, al­beit via the penalty spot in what was a de­cid­edly cagey af­fair.

And while Ahed will surely be lament­ing Haidar’s in­jury, Satur­day does seem to set the stage per­fectly for mis­fir­ing Rabih Ataya, should Mar­mar elect to play the 29-year-old.

Ataya, Ahed’s blue-chip sign­ing from An­sar in the off-sea­son, has strug­gled for form and is with­out a goal in seven out­ings for his new club.

But the enig­matic for­mer Zob Ahan winger re­mains a player of un­ques­tioned pedi­gree, and could yet prove to be the man to fill Ahed’s Haidar-sized void.

Haidar is ex­pected to miss up to three weeks of ac­tion, and cru­cially will have to watch from the stands.

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