Beitar Jerusalem striker Itay Shechter..
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Beitar Jerusalem registered another memorable win in what has become a surprisingly enjoyable season on Monday night, squandering a two-goal lead before beating Maccabi Haifa 3-2 at Teddy Stadium.
Even with nine matches still to play in the campaign, Beitar has effectively secured qualification for the Europa League next season, cementing its hold on third place by opening a 16-point gap over Haifa in fourth.
Beitar extended its longest winning streak in four years with its sixth victory in a row, still two shy of the eight straight it recorded at the end of the 2011/12 campaign.
The match got off to a scintillating start.
Two goals in two minutes gave Beitar a comfortable cushion with the contest not even eight minutes old. Itay Shechter came back to haunt his former team in the sixth minute, with his well-timed cross setting up Dan Einbinder’s opener.
Nikita Rukavytsya made it 2-0 less than two minutes later, scoring in a sixth straight match to take his tally for the season to 12 league goals. The Australian striker made the most of an inexplicable mistake by Haifa goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. The Serbian left his goal and found himself in no man’s land, allowing Rukavytsya to round him and fire into the back of the net from a tight angle at the edge of the box.
Beitar looked to be heading to an emphatic win, but the complexion of the match changed in the 13th minute when Yossi Benayoun’s classy finish handed Haifa a lifeline. The visitors were level by the break after Dekel Keinan tucked in the equalizer from close range in the 37th minute. However, the Greens were nevertheless in trouble at the break after Neta Lavi was sent off in the 43rd minute with a straight red card for unintentionally kicking Beitar’s Claudemir.
Jerusalem needed less than two second- half minutes to move back in front, with Dutch substitute Arsenio Valpoort scoring with his first touch to give the hosts a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The build up to the match was dominated by a player who wasn’t even on the pitch on Monday, with Omer Atzili and Beitar clashing over his future at the club and the true severity of his thigh injury.
Despite being ruled out of action for at least three weeks on February 27, the 22-year-old claimed he was fit to face the Greens after undergoing a private checkup over the weekend. The differences regarding the seriousness of his injury came on the back of the stalled contract negotiations between the player and the club. Atzili agreed to undergo another check by the club doctor on Sunday, and he stood by his original diagnosis, meaning Atzili will only return to full training next week.
Atzili’s agent Ronen Katzav went a step further in an attempt to defuse the tension between the parties on Monday, releasing a statement saying that the player will sign a contract extension without negotiations and for a salary determined by owner Eli Tabib, as long as it includes a buyout clause to leave for a European club.
“Omer’s commitment to the club is total and his appreciation of the opportunity he has been given to play for Beitar and serve as its captain is something he is thankful for, towards owner Eli Tabib, the club and its wonderful fans,” read the statement, with Atzili’s current deal running out at the end of next season.
Tabib said in response that he doesn’t negotiate via the media.