Abahani inched closer to a sixth Bangladesh Premier League title as they handed a 2-0 defeat to Brothers Union in a crucial encounter at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
An eighth straight win ahead of the penultimate round took the Sky Blues to pole position with 48 points, just one ahead of Sheikh Jamal DC, who notched up a 3-1 win over Chittagong Abahani last night.
With that defeat, last season's runners-up Chittagong Abahani are now five points behind their namesakes, who can clinch the title in the next round of matches if they defeat Sheikh Jamal.
As one of three teams in a tight title run-in, five-time champions Abahani did not have the luxury of dropping any points. And although Brothers posed a bit of a challenge, they failed to beat Abahani for the sixth consecutive league match.
From the outset, the ball was mostly confined to the middle and it was Brothers who launched the first attack in the 21st minute when Mohammed Salauddin ran down the right before lofting in a ball for Joseph Noor, who headed towards an open net with Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel beaten by the flight. However, defender Tutul Hossain Badsha emerged as the hero as he kept the ball out at the near post.
Abahani then broke the deadlock, availing a fumble from Brothers goalkeeper Sujan Chowdhury, who failed to judge an Emon Babu corner. The ball fell straight to an unmarked Nasir Chowdhury, who tapped home in the 32nd minute.
Abahani pressed hard to extend their lead in the second half, but they barely managed to penetrate Brothers' backline before Rubel Mia struck a stunning goal in the 60th minute.
After controlling a ball from goalkeeper Sohel with his head, the diminutive winger made the space inside the box by lofting it over one defender and the goalkeeper to wrap up the crucial win.
In the day's second match, three-time champions Sheikh Jamal all but put to bed Chittagong Abahani's title hopes with a dominant win.
Nurul Absar whipped in a cross from the right flank for Ali Hossain, whose powerful drive from outside the box was blocked by a Chittagong Abahani defender. However, the ball fell to an unmarked Raphael Odoyin, who drove home from the edge of the six-yard box to give Sheikh Jamal a lead in the 11th minute.
Sheikh Jamal doubled the lead after benefitting from a defensive lapse as Raphael snatched onto a backwards header from Nigerian defender Udoka Alison and broke free. When faced by onrushing goalkeeper Ashraful Islam Rana, for whom the header was intended, Udoka smartly squared to Solomon King, who slid the ball into a gaping net in the 32nd minute.
Chittagong Abahani found a ray of hope as they pulled one back through Alison's header in the 62nd minute, but any sparks of a comeback were extinguished after Javed Khan's left-footed drive powered in through the near post in the 78th minute.