Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Eran Zahavi’s 90th-minute winner gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a 3-2 victory over Beitar Jerusalem at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night, taking the yellow-and-blue back to the summit of the Premier League standings and giving the prolific midfielder sole possession of the Israeli record for goals in a season.
After equaling Nissim Elmalich’s record of 30 goals from the 1954/55 campaign with his strike in the 41st minute, Zahavi scored from close range just when it was beginning to seem Maccabi would be denied by Nikita Rukavytsya’s brace.
Since losing 2-1 to Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield back in December of last year, Maccabi had been playing catch-up with its title rival.
Maccabi had led the standings for a day or two over the past four months due to the schedule, but it finally took the outright lead on Monday, winning for the seventh time in the past eight matches and making the most of Beersheba’s 1-1 draw against Maccabi Haifa on Saturday.
Maccabi extended its unbeaten streak to 15 matches, beating Beitar for the first time this season, previously drawing 2-2 at Teddy Stadium and losing 4-2 the last time they played at Bloomfield.
Maccabi got off to an ideal start, with its early pressure paying off in the 10th minute when Dor Micha scored between the legs of goalkeeper Boris Kleyman.
Beitar struggled to get its foot in the door, but needed only one break forward to score the equalizer.
Itay Shechter was brought down in the box by Eitan Tibi and Rukavytsya converted the penalty in the 21st minute.
Zahavi twice hit the woodwork before finally finding the back of the net in the 41st minute.
Micha’s perfectly weighted ball was volleyed in by the 28-year-old star from the center of the box, a deserving goal with which to equal the record and break his previous personal best of 29, from two years ago.
Maccabi pushed forward in search of a third goal at the start of the second half, but it was Beitar which scored next. Rukavytsya made the most of Maccabi’s leaky defense to score from close range, but Maccabi would not be denied, with Zahavi the hero once more.
Yet again the build up to a Beitar match was dominated by a player who wasn’t even on the pitch on Monday, with the dispute between Omer Atzili and Beitar continuing to escalate.
Atzili is set to face disciplinary action for a second time in a month and may have played his last match for the club after refusing to start the game against Maccabi.
He told coach Slobodan Drapic that he prefers to come on as a substitute after sitting out the team’s past four contests and that he doesn’t want to get the coach in trouble with owner Eli Tabib, who wants the player to sign a contract extension.
The 22-year-old rising star hasn’t played since late February, initially being ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury.
Atzili claimed he was ready to return sooner, but Beitar insisted he follows the orders of the club doctor.
The differences regarding the seriousness of his injury came on the back of the stalled contract negotiations between the player and the club. Tabib chose to discipline Atzili for his initial refusal to accept the club’s decision and he was stripped of the captain’s armband and handed a suspended NIS 10,000 fine. Following Monday’s developments, he seems set to lose that money and is likely to face a far stiffer punishment from Tabib.