Gal Alberman’s goal in the second minute of stoppage time all but guaranteed Maccabi Tel Aviv a second straight Premier League championship on Sunday night, securing a 1-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium to open an 11-point gap at the top of the standings with six matches to play.
Tel Aviv struggled for large periods against the Greens, creating very few scoring opportunities even before losing star midfielder Eran Zahavi to a thigh injury in the 37th minute.
The yellow-and-blue seemed destined to end the night in frustration when Maharan Radi, who substituted Zahavi, failed to convert a penalty in the 89th minute, going for power rather than precision and seeing his shot saved by goalkeeper Bojan Saranov.
However, Alberman ensured Maccabi picked up all three points and opened a double-digit gap over second-place Hapoel Beersheba, blasting in the winner from 20 meters out to the delight of the local supporters.
“This was an important step to our main goal,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa. “We still have points to get and we still have games to perform because the season is long. The players showed their maturity to bounce back from their first-half performance. We showed hunger and desire to get the result and I’m very proud.”
Alberman was delighted at scoring the winner and by the fighting spirit shown by his team.
“We didn’t give up until the final second,” said the veteran midfielder. “We continued to put Haifa under pressure until the final whistle despite not playing well because we really wanted this victory.”
Haifa’s fourth straight defeat, its longest losing streak since 1974, leaves it three points behind Hapoel Tel Aviv in the battle for fourth place.
Haifa registered the first chance of the night, with Gustavo Boccoli’s bullet being parried to the crossbar by ‘keeper Juan Pablo in the 28th minute. The visitors continued to be the more dangerous team until halftime, with Hen Ezra failing to finish off his excellent solo effort down the left flank in the 35th minute.
Tel Aviv suffered another blow two minutes later when Zahavi had to be substituted and it wasn’t until the final 15 minutes of the match that the hosts finally began to test Saranov.
Rade Prica and Radi both came close before Tal Ben-Haim was tripped in the box by Avihai Yadin in the 87th minute, with the Haifa midfielder being sent off after being shown his second yellow card.
Radi couldn’t convert the spot kick, but Alberman made sure that no one would remember his miss, giving Maccabi another dramatic win in a sensational season.
Also Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem effectively secured its Premier League status for another season, beating Ashdod SC 1-0 courtesy of Shlomi Azulai’s 78th-minute winner. Azulai’s first goal for Beitar since joining the club in the January transfer window gave his team a nine-point gap from the relegation zone with four matches to play.
Ashdod remained on 34 points, two points behind Beitar.
“Nothing is over yet,” said Beitar coach Roni Levy. “We want to play better than we did tonight, but the pressure takes its toll. I have been coaching long enough to know that nothing is over until it’s over. Sometimes when you begin to relax you end up finding yourself in trouble so we must keep our foot on the gas.”
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