Maccabi Haifa coach Aliksandar Stanojevic .
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
This was supposed to be the season Maccabi Haifa reclaimed its place at the summit of Israeli soccer.
The budget was increased, the club moved into its new stateof- the-art stadium and the fans purchased a local record of 17,000 season tickets.
One of Israel’s greatest ever players, Yossi Benayoun, was brought back and a new expensive foreign coach was signed in Serbian Aleksandar Stanojevic.
The level of expectation and excitement was sky-high entering the season and everything seemed to be in place for the Greens to finally challenge for the title for the first time since they last won the championship four years ago.
They may well still do so. However, pressure is beginning to build at the club, with its start to the 2014/15 season looking more and more like those of recent years.
Haifa dropped to its second defeat in four matches on Monday, losing 3-1 to defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.
Haifa was the more dangerous team until Eyal Meshumar got a red card in the 23rd minute, ultimately ending the match with nine men following Edin Cocalic’s sending off nine minutes from time.
Haifa has so far comfortably beaten Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva at home, but road defeats to Beitar Jerusalem and the yellow-and-blue already leave it four points off Ironi Kiryat Shmona in first place.
Haifa will be desperate to get back to winning ways when it hosts Hapoel Ra’anana at the Sammy Ofer Stadium on Saturday, with the shorthanded Greens also wanting to finally end a streak which has seen them win no more than two of their first five matches over the previous three campaigns.
Haifa will have to manage without the injured Benayoun once more on Saturday, with the midfielder only appearing in one league match so far. The Greens will also be without the suspended Meshumar, Cocalic and Mohammadou Idrissou.
Ra’anana is coming off an encouraging 1-1 draw against Hapoel Beersheba after losing its two previous games on the road.
Beersheba will hope to rebound from last week’s draw during which it missed two penalty kicks when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Kiryat Shmona will be confident of extending its stay in first place for at least one more week when it hosts Hapoel Haifa on Saturday.
Kiryat Shmona has won three straight matches and has conceded just a single goal so far this season.
Also Saturday, rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya welcomes Bnei Sakhnin, with both sides still searching for their first victory of the campaign, while Hapoel Petah Tikva visits Ashdod SC.
Maccabi Tel Aviv faces Hapoel Acre in Netanya on Sunday, with Hapoel Tel Aviv hosting Beitar Jerusalem at Bloomfield on Monday.