A LATE goal by Abdulla Jassim Abbas enabled Al Ahli to pull off a 1-1 draw with Manama in their last Nasser bin Hamad Premier League game at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium last night.
Manama – third on the 12-team table with 40 points before the encounter – needed to win to get ahead of leaders Al Khaldiya – who have 41 points but still have a game in hand – to give themselves a chance of winning their first-ever championship title.
As they led 1-0 with four minutes left till the end of the mandatory 90 minutes, courtesy of a stunning 70th minute goal by Khalifa Isa Alalafi, barely seconds after he came on as a substitute, Manama must have thought they were getting one step closer to finally realising their dream of winning the championship.
Instead, Abbas, who had also come on as a substitute just minutes earlier, pounced on a header by a teammate and sent the ball whistling past wrong-footed Manama goalkeeper Mohammed Hassan Ali into the net for the equaliser.
As the game ticked into five minutes of injury time, Manama made several attempts to score again and came desperately close in the 92nd minute but Alalafi’s left-footed kick went over the goal.
Earlier, the game got off to a slow start in the first half with neither team being able to make any real attempts at each other’s goals.
Manama finally came close to drawing first blood in the 40th minute but Mohammed Al Marmour’s powerful left-footed kick went soaring high over the goal.
Later, five minutes into the second half, Mahdi Abduljabbar’s attempt to deflect the ball into the goal was stopped neatly by Al Ahli goalkeeper Ibrahim Lutfallah.
And, in the 60th minute, after an Isa Moosa free kick rebounded into the air off an Al Ahli defender, Ahmed bin Ammar sent the ball over the goal followed six minutes later by another Moosa free kick sending the ball high over the target.
Later, three minutes after Alalafi had put Manama 1-0 ahead, Al Ahli had a chance to equalise as Jamal Rashid Yusuf fired the ball towards the Manama goal from just outside the box but Ali tipped it over the crossbar.
In the 80th minute, Al Ahli had another opportunity to draw level but Abbas Saeed Ayed, with only the goalkeeper to beat, fired his shot wide.
Al Ahli did finally manage to equalise six minutes later and eventually held out for a morale-boosting draw leaving Manama to endure an anxious four days with Khaldiya due to play Bahrain Club in a virtual final on Thursday.
Now level with Khaldiya on 41 points each, Manama still have a slim chance of becoming champions for the first time since the league started in 1956-57 if Bahrain Club, who are currently 11th in the standings with 18 points, manage to beat Khaldiya in the final game of the season.
That would leave both Manama and Khaldiya on 41 points each but Manama would win the championship because, in the head-to-head games between the two teams, they triumphed both times, winning 2-1 last January and 1-0 in February.
But, if Khaldiya defeat Bahrain Club, their points tally will jump to 44 meaning they will win the title outright.