Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Barak Itzhaki (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s second goal in last night’s 3-1 win over Hapoel Ashkelon..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to the summit of the Premier League standings on Sunday night, jumping over Hapoel Beersheba after edging the reigning champion 1-0 in a controversy-packed encounter in Netanya.
Eliran Atar scored the only goal of the match in the 47th minute, although Maccabi should have already been in front in the 19th minute when Avi Rikan’s shot hit the crossbar and crossed the line, which somehow went unnoticed by referee Liran Liani and his assistants.
Liani was the undoubted star of the show in the first half, deservingly sending off Beersheba midfielder John Ogu in the 25th minute and then also leaving Maccabi with 10 men after giving Yuval Shpungin his marching orders four minutes from the break.
Beersheba would end the match with nine men after defender Loai Taha received his second yellow card in the 89th minute.
But it did little until that stage to deserve anything more than a defeat in Netanya.
Maccabi will be hoping that this time its stay in first place lasts a little longer than it did last month when it only spent one week at the summit after moving to the top for the first time this season.
Tel Aviv holds a one-point lead over Beersheba, with Beitar Jerusalem a further point back and Hapoel Haifa in fourth place, three points off first.
The first moment of controversy arrived in the 19th minute. Rikan’s shot hit the crossbar and then clearly crossed the line, but Liani and his assistant somehow missed it, denying the hosts a deserved lead.
The first red card of the night arrived six minutes later, with Ogu, who was over-aggressive from the start, receiving a first yellow card for a foul on Nick Blackman before being booked for a second time moments later and being sent off for shoving Rikan. Beersheba’s night got worse when Ben Sahar had to be substituted after pulling up injured while running for the ball in the 36th minute.
Beersheba hadn’t shown any of the ability that has made it the two-time reigning champion with 11 men and looked shellshocked after losing Ogu and Sahar. It was given an unexpected boost by Shpungin with four minutes to play in the first half though, with the Maccabi defender being sent off with a second yellow for a needless foul on Anthony Nawkaeme.
The first half had everything but goals, but it would take less than two second-half minutes for the breakthrough to arrive.
Dor Micha provided the assist and Atar slotted in the winner from close range, vindicating coach Jordi Cruyff’s decision to start him in place of the team’s top scorer Vidar Orn Kjartansson.
Beersheba had no choice but to push forward after going behind, but Maccabi goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic had little work and Tel Aviv held on for three sweet points.
Elsewhere Sunday, Ashdod SC and Bnei Yehuda drew 1-1. Gadi Kinde gave Ashdod the lead in the 41st minute, with Mavis Tchibota equalizing in the 47th minute.
On Monday, Yossi Benayoun is set to make his debut for Maccabi Petah Tikva when it hosts Hapoel Ashkelon after completing his move from Beitar Jerusalem last week. The 37-year-old signed a one-ahalf- year deal after his time at Beitar lasted just six months.