Tal Ben-Haim (right) and Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv made it two wins in a row to start the Premier League season on Sunday night, but was forced to dig deep before eking out a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana at Bloomfield Stadium.
Tal Ben-Haim broke the deadlock in the 76th minute after a characteristic move down the left flank, four minutes after Ra’anana was left with 10 men following Emmanuel Mbola’s sending off for a second yellow card.
Eran Zahavi secured the three points in the third minute of stoppage time, scoring in his seventh straight league match dating back to last season.
“I expected a very difficult game because I knew they are a very well organized team,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran.
“They knew what they were looking for today and made it a tough game. We were not confident and our midfield couldn’t find space.”
After beating Hapoel Petah Tikva 4-0 last week, Ra’anana proved it can also compete with the league’s best on Sunday, frustrating the yellow-and-blue until Mbola’s red card.
“I’m disappointed with the result,” said Ra’anana coach Haim Silvas.
“I’m proud of my players who were really disciplined. I don’t care about the compliments we might receive. I wanted to leave Bloomfield with points.”
Expensive summer signings, Eden Ben-Basat and Nosa Igiebor, once more failed to make Pako’s starting lineup, with the former beginning the game on the bench and Igiebor being left off the squad due to illness.
After claiming an easy 3-0 win over Maccabi Petah Tikva last week, Tel Aviv encountered a far tougher time against Ra’anana, forcing Pako to already make his first substitution in the 31st minute, bringing on striker Rade Prica for midfielder Maharan Radi.
Maccabi still failed to force Ra’anana goalkeeper Daniel Lifshitz into a save in the first half, and Dor Micha was sent on instead of Gael Margulies at the start of the second half.
However, it was Ra’anana which should have taken the lead eight minutes after the break, with Mamadou Thiam sending a bitterly poor shot wide of the target with only ‘keeper Juan Pablo to beat.
The visitors would of course live to rue the miss, with the match changing completely following Mbola’s sending off for a reckless foul in the 72nd minute.
Ben-Haim soon punished Ra’anana by breezing past defender Adi Nimni before finding the back of the net with an exquisite finish and Zahavi guaranteed the two-time defending champion will enter next week’s showdown with last season’s runner-up Hapoel Beersheba with a maximum six points.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa will look to join the yellow-and-blue as the only teams with two wins from two matches when it visits Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
Haifa impressed in its first ever match at its new Sammy Ofer Stadium last week, beating Bnei Sakhnin 4-2, with Ruben Rayos scoring two goals and setting up two more.
The Spanish midfielder limped out of training on Saturday, but is expected to play at Teddy, while Yossi Benayoun remains sidelined with a knee injury.
Haifa has beaten Beitar in five of their past six encounters and will be desperate to make it two victories in a row to start the season after lagging behind early in the title race in each of the past three years.
Despite opening two of the last three campaigns with victories, Haifa hasn’t won more than two of its first five matches over the last three seasons.
“We need to win this match to show we are serious about our goals,” Haifa coach Aleksandar Stanojevic told his players on Sunday. “After this match I will know who I can trust and who I can’t.”
Beitar was very close to leaving Beersheba with three points last week before eventually drawing 1-1 with last season’s runner-up.
Nevertheless, it showed plenty of promise in its first league match under new coach Menahem Koretzki and will be confident of claiming its first win of the campaign in its home opener.
“Maccabi Haifa is an amazing team and it won’t be easy,” said striker Shlomi Azulay.”
We proved against Beersheba that we are an energetic team which targets only victories. We haven’t done anything yet and we need to prove ourselves in every match so that we can guide the club to its goals.”