CAIRO: Egyptian Premier League leaders Ahly will be looking to ensure their supremacy when they face Harras Hodoud on Thursday, with Ismaili and Petrojet chasing the champions.
Ahly take on Tarek Al-Ashri s side in Alexandria; an encounter that has been usually considered a tense top-of-the-table clash .
However, with Hodoud languishing in 14th place having been without a win for nine straight games, the Red Devils are favorites to wrap up the three points.
A victory over Ahly would be different from any other victory, it could boost Hodoud s morale significantly, said the under-fire Al-Ashri.
There is nothing better than beating the leaders to regain the lost confidence.
Ahly, who emphatically beat Police Union 4-2 last week thanks to a second-half blitz, are still without a host of key players due to injury and suspension.
Manager Hossam Al-Badri will likely rely on the enthusiasm of talented youngsters Ahmed Shokri and Afrotto, besides the experience of Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Barakat.
Full-backs Sayed Moawad and Gilberto are out injured, leaving youngster Ayman Ashraf as the only recognized left-back.
Long-term absentees include star man Mohamed Abou-Treika and Moataz Eno, while Wael Gomaa completes a two-match suspension.
New signing Sherif Ekrami has been included in the squad for the first time, but faces competition with Ahmed Adel for a place between the posts.
Top scorer Ahmed Abdul-Ghani and ex-Ahly defender Islam Al-Shater return for Hodoud after injury, but Ali Farag has been ruled out.
In Ismailia, Ismaili host Petrojet in a crucial contest for both teams who aim to keep the pace with Ahly at the top.
Ismaili are second on 31 points, seven adrift of Ahly. Petrojet are on 29 points, which means that an away victory could see them leapfrog the Dervishes.
I think this game is worth more than three points because it is against a straight rival, that’s why we are well-prepared, said Petrojet boss Mokhtar Mokhtar.
In the same manner, Ismaili manager Emad Soliman is aware of the challenge from the Suez outfit, who beat the league runners-up twice last season.
It’s a six-point match as Petrojet are our closest rivals, said the former Egypt international.
They have also proven to be capable of competing with top teams since their promotion to the Premier League. That’s why our games are usually tight.
Soliman will decide whether to reinstall Essam Al-Hadari between the posts or keep the faith in reserve keeper Mohamed Sobhi.
Egypt number one Al-Hadari missed the past two games with Mansoura and Sofapaka of Kenya, following a dispute over his late wages.
Influential winger Omar Gamal is close to making his comeback from a serious knee injury, but has yet to be match-fit.