AUB Varsity Football locked horns with LAU Byblos last Thursday night, Nov. 23, in the fifth round of the Varsity Football League. The match took place at the recently renovated AUB greenfield with the home side under immense pressure after their defeat to LAU Beirut last week.
Coach Rabih Idriss decided to shake things up after a disappointing performance last time out, making four changes to the starting line-up as Rayan Chehayeb, Jad Chaanine, Chris Tamari, and Bassam Adada were all dropped to the bench.
New recruit and full back Yasser Makke was handed his debut while Samir Ghandour and Khaled Alameh partnered up once more in central defense, with Walid Ibrahim completing the back four. Center back and captain Wael Daou was pushed forward into a makeshift midfield trio alongside Elie Dib and Rami Musallam, with Adnan Shadid, Rani Makarem and Ghassan Ibrahim all taking their place in the team’s attack.
The match kicked off at 7 pm with both sides weary of the other’s attacking threat. However ,it was LAU that fired the first warning as Khaled Alameh completely missed a chipped ball which bounced into the path of the LAU left winger, whose effort was saved by the superb Mohamad Khatib. AUB hit back a few minutes later through Khaled Alameh himself with a powerful header that was saved by the opposition keeper, much to the fans’ disbelief.
As play went on, AUB were dealt a huge blow as coach Idriss was forced into taking off the injured Elie Dib, with Jad Chaanine coming on to replace him. In spite of this, it was clear that no one wanted to lose this match as both sides remained cautious in an unexciting first half that ended goalless.
As the second half resumed, an unlucky AUB side were again left in disbelief as an ill Walid Ibrahim threw up on the pitch, forcing Coach Rabih to introduce Rayan Chehayeb who took his usual spot at left back with Yasser Makke switching over to the right.
The two sides rocked back and forth without any clear cut chances as each side struggled to break down the opposition’s defense. However, all that changed midway through the second half as LAU finally found the opener.
Some smooth passing by LAU on the edge of the box sent their winger clear on the left flank before he sent in a low cross that was turned in by the striker. LAU immediately gained the upper hand and dominated possession, restricting AUB to counterattacking football.
A string of changes soon followed as Bassam Adada, Chris Tamari and Rami Nasr were all introduced to turn things around and that was exactly what happened. Against the run of play, Adnan Shadid carried the ball past two defenders on the right before crossing to Chris at the far post, who easily headed the ball in to level the scores. AUB grew in confidence after scoring and created a few chances, with Chris volleying into the side netting from Jad Chaanine’s long ball.
In the end it was LAU that snatched the three points as a corner was taken short and the following cross was headed in to seal the match in LAU’s favor. The result puts a huge dent in AUB’s title hopes as it marks their second defeat in the space of a week.
After the game, midfielder Jad Chaanine was available to comment on his side’s loss.
“We started the league campaign with two wins and an away draw. The fourth game [versus LAU Beirut] was one of our worst performances in years and that’s why the coach came into this game with a different mentality than the previous one, and you could see that in the starting XI. Yes we lost, but the game could have gone either way and as a whole we had a good performance. We’re looking forward to our next game on Monday and hopefully we’ll get the win.”
When asked whether he still believes his team can clinch first place, his admirable spirit showed in his response.
“We never expected to finish first in the league, but since the beginning we had to believe we could. We work hard in every training session and will continue to do so. We still have seven games left and I believe first place is still within reach.”
With a squad of their talent, it would be foolish to put anything past AUB just yet.