Tel Aviv’s Eli Dasa.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi Tel Aviv finally played like the team coach Jordi Cruyff envisioned in the first half at Teddy Stadium on Monday night and showed plenty of fighting spirit in the second half to eke out a 2-1 win over Beitar Jerusalem and kick-start its Premier League title challenge.
Maccabi had drawn its previous three league games, but picked up some much-needed confidence with the 1-0 victory over Hapoel Beersheba in the Toto Cup final last Thursday. It closed to within four points of the two-time reigning champion at the summit with Monday’s triumph after Beersheba lost 1-0 at Maccabi Netanya on Sunday.
The yellow-and-blue took the lead within the first minute through Avi Rikan and capped a superb first half with a second goal courtesy of Nick Blackman (42).
Beitar got a goal back via Claudemir in the 55th minute, but couldn’t find an equalizer and remains in third place, one point ahead of Maccabi, after suffering its first home loss of the campaign.
“The first half was very good,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “We had a few chances for 3-0 and didn’t score and then Beitar scores from a set piece and you know it is going to be difficult from there.
“In our intensity and effort on the pitch there has been a turning point,” added Cruyff. “But that doesn’t win games by itself. You also have to score and play better and for sure there are a lot of things we need to improve.”
Maccabi couldn’t have wished for a better start to the match. It took just 53 seconds for Rikan to find the bottom left corner, stunning the hosts.
Tel Aviv completely dominated the first half and seemingly reached scoring opportunities at will.
Beitar’s substitute goalkeeper Stav Shushan, standing in for the injured Boris Kleyman, kept the visitors at bay on several occasions, but Maccabi nevertheless doubled its lead prior to the break.
Shushan did well to keep out Blackman’s initial header from a cross by Eli Dasa, who impressed in his first league match of the season after a long injury layoff, but the Englishman was first to the rebound to net his team’s second goal.
Beitar coach Benny Ben-Zaken made a double substitution at the break, sending on Paul Edgar and Gaetan Varenne in place of Antoine Conte and Hen Ezra.
Beitar looked better, but its goal still came out of nowhere, with Claudemir scoring with an unstoppable free kick from the edge of the box 10 minutes into the second half.
Ben-Zaken used his third and final substitution to bring on Yossi Benayoun in the 65th minute, but the veteran midfielder picked up an injury after less than 10 minutes and Maccabi held on for a precious win.
Elsewhere, rock-bottom Hapoel Acre moved within five points of safety after the Israel Football Association’s High Court accepted its appeal against a twopoint deduction.
Acre, which opened the season with a two-point deduction for financial misconduct, had two more points taken from its tally by the IFA’s disciplinary court last month as a punishment for accidentally fielding six foreign players in a 1-0 defeat to Maccabi Petah Tikva.
The court activated a suspended sentence the club was handed for a similar offence in the past, but the High Court ruled that deducting points is too harsh a punishment when it is clear that Acre’s offense was the result of carelessness.