Reds faithful had to wait 80 minutes to see their team break the deadlock after referee Mo’oud Bonyadifar blew in his whistle for a controversial penalty when substitute Leandro Pereira was brought down by Paykan skipper Behrouz Noruzifard.
Yahya Golmohammadi’s men though believed they should have been awarded a penalty minutes earlier as Saeed Sadeqi was clearly tackled down in the box by the Paykan defender.
The one-goal victory over a resolute, solid Paykan side was enough to get Persepolis – chasing a sixth league crown in seven years – back on the summit, 24 hours after early second-half goals by Nilson Júnior and Farshad Ahmadzadeh had seen Sepahan beat rock-bottom club Naft Masjed Soleyman 2-0.
Persepolis will hold a one-point lead over Sepahan heading into a nail-biting final two weeks of the Iranian top-flight season, while third-place Esteghlal’s title defense is all but finished after a 1-1 home draw against San’at Naft Abadan on Friday.
Mehdi Mamizadeh bagged the equalizer for the visiting side in the 62nd minute to cancel out Payman Babaei’s strike from the spot right before the break.
Esteghlal is now four points behind archrival Persepolis and will be facing tricky tests away to Mes Rafsanjan and at home against Tractor before the end of the campaign.
Tensions will also be high at the bottom of the table as the massive point in Tehran saw San’at – second from bottom – move level on points with Mes Kerman, which remained out of the relegation zone despite the 3-1 home defeat against Tractor.
Brazilian Gustavo scored on either side of a Moein Abbasian’s superb free-kick for Mes and Mohammad Aqajanpour bagged the third to leave Tractor on course for a fourth-place finish and a possible AFC Champions League spot.
Mes Rafsanjan kept the deficit on Tractor at three points with a 4-0 hammering of Malavan FC in Bandar Anzali.
Nigerian Godwin Mensha scored twice – the first of which eight seconds after the kickoff was the fastest goal in the Iranian Pro League history – with Shahin Tavakkoli and Omid Lotfi also on the scoresheet.
In Isfahan, late strikes by Arman Akvan and Shahram Salari led Zob Ahan to an impressive 2-0 win against Foolad Khuzestan at home, while in Sirjan, Milad Fakhreddini scored with five minutes into the second half and Amin Qasseminejad was denied from the spot by new Iranian international goalkeeper Hossein Pourhamidi minutes later as Aluminium Arak walked away with a 1-0 win at Golgohar.
Nassaji Mazandaran and Havadar, which will face Esteghlal and Persepolis in the Hazfi Cup semifinals respectively, shared the spoils in a 1-1 stalemate in Qaemshahr’s Shahid Vatani Stadium.
Mohammad-Javad Mohammadi gave Saket Elhami’s men a 40th-minute lead before Hamed Shiri drew the home side level from the spot with eight minutes from normal time.