Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi (right).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The unstoppable Eran Zahavi scored four goals on Sunday night to take Maccabi Tel Aviv back to the top of the Premier League standings, securing a 5-0 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield Stadium.
Minutes later, coach Slavisa Jokanovic announced he is leaving the club. Maccabi is expected to name a replacement in the coming days.
Jokanovic will join Fulham of the English Championships after just over six months at Maccabi. The Serbian led Maccabi to the Champions League group stage for the first time in 11 years.
Zahavi took his tally for the season to 18 goals in 16 league matches to ensure Maccabi bounced back from last week’s disappointing home defeat to Hapoel Beersheba and overcome the distraction of the constant speculation regarding the future of Jokanovic.
Maccabi’s stay in first place could be short-lived though, with Beersheba only requiring a draw against Hapoel Ra’anana at Turner Stadium on Monday night to return to the summit.
“We didn’t play especially good in the first half,” said Jokanovic.
“We were nervous at the start and made a lot of mistakes. But in the second half, and especially after the third goal, we started to play with calm and quality and completed a very good game.”
Jokanovic called Zahavi an “amazing” player.
“The way he is working in training and how he is thinking. He’s always hungry to score goals and is a great example for all of the Maccabi players,” he said.
Maccabi had to survive an early scare on Sunday, with Ahmed Abed’s goal for Kiryat Shmona in the 11th minute being contentiously disallowed by referee Roei Reinshriber for a questionable foul.
Zahavi took full advantage, giving the hosts the lead in the 15th minute after stealing the ball from Dean Maimoni and racing unchallenged to the goal. Zahavi headed in his and the team’s second goal in the 33rd minute and completed a hattrick in the 68th minute.
Omri Ben-Harush smashed in the fourth goal three minutes later and Zahavi added one more two minutes from time.
Beersheba coach Barak Bachar is confident his team will return to first place on Monday, with his team unbeaten in its past 10 matches, winning nine of them.
Bachar said on Sunday that he celebrated the win over Maccabi by going out for a beer and insisted once more that he is expecting just as tough a match against Ra’anana, which is unbeaten over its past five games and can close within a single point of Beitar Jerusalem in third place with a win.
“The win over Maccabi was important for the city and I’m happy they are proud of us, but I already said that we are facing as difficult a game against Ra’anana,” said Bachar. “They know how to make life difficult for you and they have good players and a good coach. The match against Maccabi is in the past.”
Bachar feels his team has yet to play to potential this season.
“I believe that we still haven’t peaked,” he explained. “We have dropped quite a few points this season and we can play better.”