Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
A stunning Eran Zahavi goal helped Maccabi Tel Aviv back to the top of the Premier League standings for at least 24 hours on Saturday night, while Eli Gutman’s return to Hapoel Tel Aviv got off to an unhappy start.
Maccabi moved two points clear of Hapoel Beersheba, which hosts Beitar Jerusalem on Sunday, with a 3-1 win over Maccabi Petah Tikva at Bloomfield Stadium.
Zahavi netted his remarkable opener in the 17th minute, cutting between two Petah Tikva players and somehow connecting with the ball mid-air with an acrobatic effort while running backwards.
Nosa Igiebor doubled the advantage five minutes later with an unstoppable shot into the top right corner from 20 meters out, but Petah Tikva was still very much in the match at the interval after Dor Hugi scored on the stroke of halftime.
Petah Tikva had several chances to equalize, hitting the crossbar moments before Zahavi took his tally for the season to 22 league goals in 20 matches in the 67th minute to maintain coach Peter Bosz’s perfect start at the club.
“I’m satisfied with the result, but not so much with the performance,” said Bosz, who has won all four of his matches in charge of Maccabi.
“The second half was better than the first half but we gave away many chances and to be honest we were sometimes lucky.
However, if we were a little smarter we could have also scored more goals.”
Four years and eight months since he did so for the last time, Gutman was back guiding Hapoel on Saturday, but his return to the club was anything but promising.
Gutman returned to the head coaching position at Hapoel on Tuesday following the sacking of Guy Levy and his first match back in charge ended in a 1-0 defeat to Bnei Sakhnin at Doha Stadium.
Firas Mugrai scored the only goal of the match in the 66th minute, taking Sakhnin up to 10th place, four points above the relegation zone, while sending Hapoel to 12th, three points ahead of the bottom two.
“I told the players that whichever team loses concentration will lose this match,” said Gutman after Hapoel failed to find the back of the net for the sixth time in its past eight games. “I know exactly what situation we are in, but we need to find a way to pick up points.
“Hapoel is fighting relegation and anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding himself.”
Sakhnin coach Yossi Abuksis said it was a bittersweet win as it came against Gutman, under whom he worked at the Israel national team.
“On the one hand, this is a very important win, but on the other it came against a man I love and who taught me how to be a coach,” said Abuksis. “I hope I can achieve quarter of what he’s achieved in his career.”
Fortunately for Hapoel, both Hapoel Acre and Maccabi Netanya lost once more on Saturday to maintain Tel Aviv’s cushion over the relegation zone.
Acre lost 3-1 to Hapoel Ra’anana, which climbed up to fourth place.
Rene Mihelic failed to convert his penalty in the 41st minute, but Ra’anana still took the lead through Ben Vahaba (58) and Barak Badash made it 2-0 only four minutes later.
Guy Dayan handed Acre a lifeline in the 68th minute, but Evans Kangwa secured the three points for the hosts seven minutes from time.
Netanya, coached by Menahem Koretzki for the first time, suffered a 1-0 defeat to Hapoel Kfar Saba and is 11 points from safety.
Ran Yitzhak scored the winner from the spot in the fifth minute to take Kfar Saba up to eighth with its third consecutive 1-0 victory since coach Sharon Mimer took charge.
Bnei Yehuda calmed its nerves on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa. Amir Agajev netted the only goal with an accurate effort from 20 meters out in the 63rd minute.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Haifa welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona.