Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda.
(photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)
Almost two months since its last match at Bloomfield Stadium, Maccabi Tel Aviv returns home in perfect timing on Monday night, when it hosts Hapoel Beersheba.
Maccabi hasn’t played at Bloomfield since the derby debacle on November 3, which resulted in a one-point deduction and three home matches away from its stadium.
The yellow-and-blue played two of those encounters in Netanya and one in Haifa, picking up seven of a possible nine points.
The two-time defending champion had won all three of its home games at Bloomfield prior to the derby and can hand Beersheba’s title hopes a significant blow with another victory on Monday.
Both Maccabi and Beersheba are frightened of losing touch with league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which holds a fivepoint gap at the top following Saturday’s 3-1 win over Maccabi Netanya.
The yellow-and-blue can close to within two points of Kiryat Shmona and move five points clear of Beersheba with a victory, while Beersheba would leapfrog into second place, four points behind the northerners, with a triumph at Bloomfield.
Beersheba beat Maccabi 3-2 in their first meeting this season in late September at Vasermil Stadium following three goals by both teams over the final five minutes of the match. Beersheba’s Elyaniv Barda secured the win and his hat-trick in the 88th minute.
Barda hasn’t scored in 12 matches since, while Beersheba has lost its four previous away contests against Maccabi by a combined goal difference of 1-14.
The team’s last win over Maccabi on the road came in April 2011, and Tel Aviv coach Pako Ayestaran was confident the streak will not end on Monday, while trying to downplay the importance of the contest.
“To be honest, I don’t treat this game as a final because there is still a long time to go,” said Pako. “The playoff is in March and after that we have another 10 games.
I think this is a game that we have to continue improving the way we are playing and as a result and as a consequence of the way we are playing the game we will get the result we deserve.”
Pako will have an essentially full squad at his disposal, while Beersheba coach Elisha Levy will have to manage without suspended defensive midfielders John Ogu and Roei Gordana.
“Maccabi is returning to Bloomfield after a very long time but we are experienced enough to cope with that,” said Levy.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa’s struggles continued under new coach Marco Balbul on Sunday, with the Greens squandering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Haifa seemed to be cruising when Idan Vered (4) scored for a fifth straight match before Hen Ezra (25) doubled the advantage.
However, Petah Tikva dominated the second half, and goals from Omri Altman (62) and Guy Dayan (68) from the penalty spot ensured the spoils were shared.
Haifa climbed to fifth place with the draw, but remains just five points above Hapoel Petah Tikva and the relegation zone.
Earlier Sunday, Haim Silvas became the third Premier League coach to be sacked this season when his contract was terminated by Hapoel Ra’anana.
Ra’anana, which is only kept out of the relegation zone by goal difference, drew 0-0 with Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday, extending its winless streak to nine matches, with the side scoring just a single goal over that stretch.