Traditional powerhouse Abahani again fell prey to Bashundhara Kings as the six-time professional league champions suffered a 1-4 defeat in a crucial Bangladesh Premier League encounter at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
A first defeat in 11 matches also saw the Sky Blues slip in the title race; the gap with league leaders Bashundhara Kings now at 12 points.
The defending champions have 34 points from 12 outings at the mid-way stage of the league while Abahani have 22 points and a game in hand on the leaders.
Argentinian forward Raul Becerra struck a brace while Brazilian forward Jonathan Fernandes and Iran's Khaled Shafiei netted a goal each before Haitian striker Kervens Belfort pulled a goal back.
The high-voltage match was not only important for Abahani in order to keep their title hopes alive but also because they would have wanted to show pride after being beaten by Kings four times in a row -- two league defeats in 2018 and one loss each in the Federation Cup and Independence Cup.
Abahani, who have been going through a lean patch following injuries to key players and a lack of depth, could not even repeat their Federation Cup performance, although they were unlucky to have rattled the post twice.
Bashundhara's South American frontline of Robson and Becerra once again proved instrumental, aided by a group of national players.
Becerra fired the follow-up home in the 18th minute after Robson hit the far post before Shafiei unbelievably flicked a Robson corner to the near post in the 25th minute. Abahani were deprived of a chance at reducing arrears when a header from Belfort came off the post in the 45th minute.
Jonathan took the game away from Abahani after striking from inside the box six minutes into the second half before Becerra struck his 11th goal of the league campaign with a diving header in the 76th minute.
Belfort scored a consolation goal in the 81st minute, converting from the spot, as Abahani suffered a fifth straight loss at the hands of Bangladesh's new powerhouse.
"It will be very difficult to catch Bashundhara but not impossible. However, we must improve. We must play a different type of football. It is very, very difficult for us to turn things around. Of course, the club have expectations of winning but playing like this, we are far from Bashundhara," Abahani's Portuguese coach Mario Lemos said after the match.
"There maybe a realistic chance of returning to the title race but it is difficult. At this point, it does not depend on me or my team. It depends on Bashundhara losing points," a frustrated Lemos added.
Despite having a big gap at the top, Kings' Spanish coach Oscar Brunzon stayed grounded when asked whether he could smell the trophy. "Not at all. We still need to win seven to eight matches in the second phase of the league to win the title and there is a long way to go. The advantage is that we have seven home matches in Cumilla, so we will try to capitalise."
In the day's first match, Uttar Baridhara stunned Sheikh Russel 2-1 to taste a first victory in 11 matches and claim ninth position with nine points. Russel, with four defeats from 11 matches, remain fourth with 17 points.