TEMURKHUJA Abdukholiqov made his most important contribution yet in an Al Sailiya shirt as he scored two goals in a 3-2 victory against Al Gharafa that all but ensured them safety, with three more rounds to play.
The Uzbek striker opened the scoring in the first half and then settled the issue with a calmly-taken winner deep into the added time after Gharafa seemed to have snatched a point with a late equaliser, their second of the match.
Sailiya started the week just above the relegation zone and the win took them to ninth position with 26 points.
They are five points clear of 11th-placed Al Khor, who are the only bottom-four side with a realistic chance of escaping the drop.
Abdukholiqov, tall and powerfully built, has impressed with his attitude and work rate, and was quite a handful for the Gharafa defence. His speed and tenacity were on full display when he beat Cheetahs’ stand-in captain George Kwasi to the ball and calmly slotted it past advancing keeper Yousef Hassan Ali to give Sailiya the lead in the 28th minute.
Kwasi redeemed himself five minutes later with an equaliser, and when Moyad Hassan cancelled out Wagner Ribeiro’s free-kick goal in injury time, Gharafa were on the ascendency and there seemed to be only one winner.
But with Gharafa going all out for three points, Sailiya orchestrated a quick counter-attack along the left. Though Marius Lazar’s initial effort was saved by Hassan, Abdukholiqov nonchalantly slotted home the rebound and celebrated in style.
Abdukholiqov, 25, now has four goals from six matches since joining Sailiya in January and is the key reason for their recent revival.
“He’s a very good player, but he was slightly lacking in confidence. He’s getting his confidence back and I’m sure he can improve a lot more,” said Sailiya coach Sami Trabelsi, who termed the victory as their most important yet. “This comeback was very important for the personality and identity of the team. I hope we’ll do better after the international break.”
In other action, Rodrigo Tabata scored a hat-trick, his second of the season, as Al Rayyan blanked bottom dwellers Al Wakrah 4-0 to stay in third place and push their hapless rivals towards imminent doom.
El Jaish, in fourth, were again unimpressive, but managed to beat Muaither 2-1, who also look destined to go down.
Elsewhere, Al Ahli beat another relegation contenders Al Shahaniya 3-2 while Al Arabi played out a 1-1 draw with Al Khor, who will have to do a lot better in their next three matches to have any hope of avoiding the drop.