Hapoel Haifa striker Eden Ben-Basat (center) celebrates with teammate Dor Malul..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Beitar Jerusalem’s and Hapoel Haifa’s perfect starts to the Premier League season couldn’t have ended in a more entertaining fashion on Saturday night.
Both teams entered their showdown at Teddy Stadium after winning their first three matches and Beitar seemed to be heading to a fourth straight victory after twice coming back from behind to take a 3-2 lead.
However, Haifa striker Eden Ben-Basat completed a hat-trick with a 94th-minute equalizer and ensured the spoils were shared following a 3-3 draw in Jerusalem.
Ben-Basat had twice given Haifa the lead in the first half, scoring in the 17th and 27th minutes. Both goals were canceled out by Idan Vered (23, 39) and the score was tied at 2-2 at the break. Georginho’s header moved Beitar in front in the 66th minute, but the hosts couldn’t hold on for the win.
Defender Antoine Conte was sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time, and Ben-Basat found the top right corner from the ensuing free-kick from 20 meters out to give Haifa a point and complete his first Premier League hattrick in eight years.
“I didn’t manage to display my best form in recent years, but I’m happy I finally found a place where I feel comfortable and I have all the support I need,” said Ben-Basat.
“We didn’t deserve to lose this match,” added Haifa coach Nir Klinger.
“This wasn’t a fun game for me to watch as a coach, but the neutrals would have enjoyed it.”
Beitar was playing for the first time since the departure of professional adviser Eli Cohen after just 10 days on the job. Cohen was pushed out on Wednesday after angering Beitar owner Eli Tabib and club boss Eli Ohana for saying in an interview that he wouldn’t sign a Muslim player to the team as Beitar fans are unwilling to accept one.
Beitar looked to be on its way to another win despite the distraction, but ultimately had to settle for a point to the disappointment of coach Gili Lavenda.
“It is a shame because we twice came back from behind and had a chance to increase our lead,” said Lavenda. “Unfortunately, we were a little reckless in the final minutes and didn’t sit back and try and maintain our lead. The players wanted to score a fourth goal, but in the final 10 minutes we should have defended better.”
Earlier Saturday, Maccabi Haifa returned to winning ways, beating Hapoel Ra’anana 4-2. Haifa was desperate for three points after losing two of its first three matches and the showdown with the struggling Ra’anana couldn’t have come at a better team for Guy Luzon’s team.
Haifa already led 4-0 through goals from Omri Ben-Harush (26), Sintiyahu Salalik (34), Georgi Kostadinov (48) and Nikita Rukavytsya (73) before Jordan Faucher (86) and an own-goal by Haifa goalkeeper Omri Glazer (91) made the score-line slightly more respectable for the visitors.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Ashkelon registered its first win of the season, beating Hapoel Acre 2-1 through Tal Ayala’s 89th-minute winner. Ironi Kiryat Shmona beat Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-1.
On Sunday, Hapoel Beersheba looks to build on its 2-1 win over Lugano in Europa League action on Thursday when it visits Bnei Yehuda.
Elsewhere, Bnei Sakhnin welcomes Ashdod. Maccabi Netanya hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday.