RIYADH: The title race is over after Al-Nassr were defeated 3-1 at home by Al-Raed on Thursday and all know the reason why. The team have not kept a clean sheet in the league in nine games and have conceded 33 goals already this season, the highest in the top eight and three times more than Al-Hilal, who are now nine points clear at the top with a game in hand.

The Yellows have conceded seven goals at home in their last two league games against teams in the bottom four. It is not, in short, the form of champions. Luis Castro’s men had plenty of chances, but were not able to get enough goals to overcome the problems at the other end.

Karim El-Berkaoui almost gave the visitors the lead in the 14th minute, running onto a through ball to force David Ospina to get down quickly at the near post to make the save.

It did not take the Moroccan long to find the back of the net, just four minutes, in fact. There was more poor defending, starting with Mohammed Al-Fatil as Julio Tavares went past him on the left as if he wasn’t there. The Cape Verdean forward drew Ospina out of his goal, pulled the ball back for Berkaoui, standing near the spot, to fire home his ninth league goal of the season into an unguarded net under a feeble challenge from Aymeric Laporte. 

As poor as the defending was, there is still attacking talent in the ranks of the Yellows. Six minutes later, Ronaldo almost grabbed a contender for the goal of the season. Marcelo Brozovic sent a curling cross from the right and Ronaldo, standing on the far edge of the six-yard box, sent a spectacular volley but had his hands on his head as it came back off the opposite post.  

The hands were instantly raised in celebration, however, as Yahya fired home the rebound to level the scoreline with his first league goal of the season. It was almost not for long as El-Berkaoui was soon given too much space to head just wide from the near post.

Eight minutes before the break Laporte steered a shot just wide after good work from Brozovic as the Riyadh club tried to get in front and then Ronaldo fired over a free-kick in added time. 

If it was a promising end to the first half, the second started in a nightmarish fashion. Amir Sayoud galloped down the right and his low ball along the 18-yard line found its way for Mohammed Fouzair, unmarked, to shoot high into the net.

Brozovic almost equalized soon after, with his curling shot bringing a diving save from Andre Moreira. Then Ronaldo stepped up, heading over from a good position at the far post and then twisting and turning on the left side to send a shot just wide of the opposite post. The hosts continued to go close, but just when it looked as if a goal was coming, the old defensive problems got in the way. 

WIth three minutes left Al-Nassr fell asleep at a short corner, giving Sayoud time to control the ball and then stab home. There were just enough minutes on the clock for Ronaldo to smack a free-kick against the bar. It was not his day or his team’s, and that was that, in the game and now the title race.

Earlier in the day, Al-Shabab lost 3-2 at home to Al-Feiha, thanks to a 98th-minute winner from Saud Zaydan, while Damac defeated Al-Wehda 1-0. Al-Hilal can extend their lead to 12 points on Friday if they defeat Al-Riyadh.

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