Another Ahed injury gives Nejmeh upper hand
Haidar is the latest casualty in a growing list of absentees for the two-time defending champions
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.