(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped two important points in the Premier League title race on Sunday night after being held to a 3-3 draw by Maccabi Netanya in an entertaining encounter.
After keeping seven consecutive clean sheets, Tel Aviv conceded three goals for just the second time this season on Sunday and will enter next week’s showdown with second-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona only two points ahead of the northerners.
The yellow-and-blue twice came back from a goal down to take a 3-2 lead through Eran Zahavi in the 77th minute, only to concede a soft equalizer from Diya Saba two minutes later.
“We controlled the game in the second half and we have not been rewarded,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran, whose team nevertheless extended its unbeaten run to 12 games. “We had many chances to win the game in the second half and we gave them an easy goal. I think we deserved to win.”
Netanya moved up to seventh place with the draw, remaining unbeaten in its fourth match under new coach Roni Levy.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Levy. “We limited their chances and it is a shame. I think we deserved more.”
While it was of little surprise that Tel Aviv new signing Gili Vermouth was left off the squad just three days after training with the yellow-and-blue for the first time, no one expected Pako to drop star midfielder Eran Zahavi and defensive anchor Eitan Tibi.
With a State Cup quarterfinal first leg against Kiryat Shmona coming up on Wednesday and a crucial showdown in the league title race between the top two to take place next Monday, Pako chose to rotate his lineup, making four changes in all to the side which beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-0 in the derby last week.
Maccabi’s defense in particular seemed to be suffering as a result of the changes and Netanya took a deserved lead in the 15th minute.
After failing to round ‘keeper Juan Pablo six minutes earlier, Olarenwaju Kayode didn’t make the same mistake again, making the most of another defensive blunder to fire Netanya into the lead.
Netanya’s lead lasted just five minutes though, with a neat team move by Tel Aviv ending with a clinical finish by Dor Micha.
However, Netanya would still take a wellearned lead into the break after Carlos Garcia’s intended pass forward in the 41st minute ended up turning into an assist for Kayode who raced forward unchallenged before beating Juan Pablo.
Despite his team’s poor showing, Pako didn’t panic into making substitutions at the interval and his players on the pitch responded with an equalizer, with Gal Alberman’s perfectly weighed pass being smashed in by Eden Ben-Basat’s left-footed volley.
Pako finally introduced Zahavi off the bench in the 64th minute and the superstar’s sensational strike from 25 meters out 13 minutes later seemed set to give the yellow-and-blue the three points.
However, Netanya leveled the score just two minutes later through Diya Saba, with goalkeeper Juan Pablo allowing the ball to slip through his hands.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem visits Hapoel Haifa. Elsewhere, Hapoel Petah Tikva fired coach Idan Bar-On on Sunday.
Menahem Koretzki, who was sacked by Beitar Jerusalem two weeks ago, is the favorite to take Bar-On’s place. Bar-On, who was promoted to coach the senior Petah Tikva side after guiding the club’s youth team last season, led the team to just four wins from 21 matches, leaving it in the relegation zone, four points from safety.