If Persepolis goes on to lift the Persian Gulf Pro League trophy at the end of the season, the Tehran-based Reds will be looking back on Friday’s victory over archrival Esteghlal as a massive step toward a fifth successive title.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, and mostly associated with draws over the years, an Issa Al-e Kassir’s strike – his third league goal after serving a six-month suspension by the AFC – 10 minutes after the break was enough to see Yahya Golmohammadi’s men move back atop the table, equal on 45 points with Sepahan with eight games to spare.
“There weren’t really many scoring opportunities in the game but we had a good start in the second half and managed to score,” said Reds head coach after the match.
“We endured difficult circumstances prior to the game as there were four injured players in the trainings and Omid Alishah was eventually ruled out,” added Golmohammadi, who celebrated a first victory over the city rival as the manager of Persepolis.
Speaking of his team’s chances of winning the title, Golmohammadi said, “There are still eight games to go and we have a tough opponent like Sepahan, so we shouldn’t lose our concentration all the way through the end.”
Friday’s result also saw Farhad Majidi’s Blues fall behind in the title race as they now sit fifth in the table, 11 points adrift of the top with a game in hand.
Both Golgohar Sirjan and Aluminium Arak won their respective home fixtures against Zob Ahan and Shahr Khodro on Friday by a single goal to overtake Esteghlal.
However, Esteghlal fans argue that a different scenario would have been written for the game, had the referee Alireza Akbarian blown in his whistle for a spot-kick after Reds fullback Vahid Amiri stamped Mehdi Qayedi’s foot in the box with just three minutes into the game.
“The penalty incident was really decisive as it would have changed the whole course of the game,” Majidi said.
“We were the better team in both halves but Persepolis had only a single chance and scored. That’s the rule of the derby,” said Majidi after suffering a first defeat in three Tehran derbies as a head coach.
The second-half introduction of all attacking forces – Cheick Diabate, Farshid Esmaeili, and Arman Ramezanpour – did not help Esteghlal change the result as the Reds’ back four – led by veteran skipper Seyyed Jalal Hosseini – delivered a solid performance to deal with the Blues’ long balls.
“That’s a problem we need to look into and solve as we haven’t been able to score after the AFC Champions League campaign,” added Majidi, whose men went a second consecutive match without a goal after winning the Group C of the Asian competition, where they found the net on 14 occasions.
The Blues manager acknowledged his team will focus on winning the Hazfi Cup [the Iranian domestic cup competition] from now on.
Sepahan will be able to regain the top spot in the table when playing Mes Rafsanjan at home on Sunday.