Maccabi Haifa coach Marco Balbul.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Despite Maccabi Haifa’s dismal season to date, Sammy Ofer Stadium is expected to be almost full yet again when the Greens host Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday.
Haifa is breaking every Israeli soccer attendance record this season after moving into its new 30,000-seat stadium last summer. The club sold nearly 20,000 season tickets, smashing the previous local record, and the fans have continued to come and support the team despite its dejecting displays.
The Greens entered the campaign as one of the title favorites, but are currently in 11th place, just four points off the relegation zone. New coach Marco Balbul hasn’t won any of his three Premier League matches with the club since replacing Aleksandar Stanojevic last month.
Haifa’s 1-0 defeat to Hapoel Ra’anana on Sunday was its 10th of the season, the most in the league together with Hapoel Petah Tikva.
However, the fans have been given a new reason for optimism ahead of Saturday’s action, with Haifa going on a January spending spree as it aims to rebuild its squad.
The club is set to wrap up the signing of Israel national team striker Itay Shechter over the weekend, after already securing the services of Eliran Atar and Sierra Leone midfielder Mohamed Kamara.
The 27-year-old Shechter is expected to arrive in Israel on Friday and undergo a medical before completing his move from French club Nantes, which he joined last January.
Shechter is expected to cost Haifa a transfer fee in the region of 350,000 euros and he is set to teamup with Atar to give Haifa arguably the strongest strike force in the league.
Both Shechter and Atar are looking to kick-start their careers after hardly making an impression abroad.
Shechter scored just three goals in a year at Nantes, while Atar, who was the Premier League’s top scorer in 2012/13 with 22 goals for Maccabi Tel Aviv before joining French club Reims, netted just two goals in 22 appearances last season and played a mere 10 minutes this season back in August.
“We haven’t played well recently, but we are making changes and I believe that the team will play the way I expect it to,” Balbul said on Thursday. “It is frustrating and disappointing when you don’t win, but the players have a strong character and our new players will help reduce the pressure.”
Beersheba is looking to remain hot on the heels of league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona and second-place Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the Southerners currently six points off first place.
Maccabi Tel Aviv can climb to the summit for at least 24 hours on Saturday with a win or a draw at Ashdod SC. The yellow-and-blue trails Kiryat Shmona by a single point, with the latter not in action until Sunday night when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin.
Elsewhere Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva, Hapoel Haifa visits Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Acre faces Hapoel Ra’anana.