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DAMMAM: Marcelo Gallardo’s first game as head coach of Al-Ittihad ended in a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Al-Ettifaq, led by Steven Gerrard, on Friday.

The Argentine had been hired just days earlier to replace Nuno Santo. The Portuguese tactician departed earlier in November after a run of five games without a win in the Roshn Saudi League, just months after leading the Jeddah giants to a first domestic championship since 2009. The point keeps Al-Ittihad in fifth and Al-Ettifaq in seventh.

Playing a 3-5-2 formation at the new home of the Dammam team, Al-Ittihad started brightly with Karim Benzema, Abderrazak Hamdallah and Igor Coronado all trying to test the goalkeeper inside the first half hour without managing to find the target.

The deadlock was broken four minutes before the break. Former Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson floated a perfect first-time cross from the right and there was Hamdan Al-Shamrani at the far post to head the ball across goal.

Marcelo Grohe got a glove to it but the Brazilian could only direct it into the path of Georginio Wijnaldum, who stabbed the ball home from close range.

It did not seem to provoke much urgency in the visitors. Al-Ettifaq were looking comfortable and Robin Quaison could have extended their lead after 53 minutes but it was Hamdallah who showed how it should be done moments later.

Gerrard’s team tried to build from the back but Gallardo’s side was pressing high. Jack Hendry passed out of the area to Ali Hazzazi, unaware that Fabinho was rushing in behind.

The ex-Liverpool man took possession just outside the area, touched it left to the Moroccan marksman who then fired a fierce shot over Paulo Victor and into the roof of the net.

Seconds later, Hamdallah was calling for a penalty, claiming that he had been fouled when trying to shoot home from close range as Al-Ittihad pushed forward once more.

It was now anyone’s game with both sides looking to try and take the full points. Demarai Gray and Benzema both went close initially but the winning goal could not be found and, in the end, the game fizzled out as the midfields took charge.

This lack of dramatic action was reflected in the fact that there was only two minutes of added time.

There was lots of drama elsewhere as Al-Taawoun stayed in fourth after a shock 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Al-Riyadh.

Joao Pedro put the hosts ahead early but after Musa Barrow missed a penalty early in the second half it all went wrong. Abdulfattah Adam was sent off and then Saleh Al-Abbas equalized with 18 minutes remaining.

Birama Toure got the winner from the spot in the 100th minute just after Abdulhadi Al-Harajin missed a penalty of his own. There was still time for Riyadh defender Mohammed Al-Shwirekh to see red as both teams ended with 10 men.

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