Miracles do happen in soccer.
Lowly Hapoel Petah Tikva proved all pundits wrong and stunned reigning champion Maccabi Haifa 3-1 on Saturday, bringing the greens' 18-game unbeaten league run to an abrupt end.
Haifa entered the game as hot favorites after thrashing Ashdod SC and Upper Nazareth in its last two games. Infact, the game had so little interest that it had been removed from the weekly Toto betting form.
Yossi Shivkhon, Toto Tamuz and Manor Hasan scored for Petah Tikva, but substitute Elnatan Salami was the hero as he played a main role in the hosts' comeback. The striker, who came on in the second half, was virtually unstoppable as he was involved in all his team's goals.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv overtook Betar Jerusalem for second place, while on Friday Maccabi Petah Tikva fell deeper into the relegation hole.
Betar managed only a modest 1-1 draw with Upper Nazareth; Hapoel Tel Aviv scored a 1-0 win against Hapoel Kfar Saba; Bnei Yehuda prevailed over Reuven Atar's Maccabi Netanya thanks to a late Eli Biton winner; and Shai Holtzman scored a brace in Ashdod's 2-0 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Ton Caanen's Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts the resurging Bnei Sakhnin Sunday at Bloomfield Stadium, hoping to recover lost ground and rejoin the race for second place in the table.
Caanen will be without the services of Croatian Giovanni Rosso, who broke his leg in training over the weekend and will be out of action for at least a month.
At Petah Tikva, Maccabi Haifa didn't waste any time on and punished the hosts with a quick counter attack in the 11th minute. Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Boccoli found himself with space and fired in a fierce shot from the edge of the box to give the visitors the lead.
The greens continued to come ahead after the goal, but Shlomi Arbitman and Roberto Colautti were inaccurate in front of goal and failed to convert. The mistakes proved costly as the hosts conjured a spirited comeback.
In the 62nd minute, Salami squared the ball to Hasan who misfired, but Shivkhon was in position to score the equalizer.
The drama intensified six minutes later.
Salami spotted Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich out of position and lobbed the ball towards the goal. The ball came off the crossbar, but the teenage Tamuz used his reflexes and headed in the ball from close range to give the hosts the lead.
Haifa received another blow in the 80th minute when Petah Tikva was awarded a penalty. Hasan took the spot kick and coolly chipped in the ball to make it 3-1.
Upper Nazareth 1, Betar Jerusalem 1
Betar drew first blood in the 23rd minute with a quick raid after containing Nazareth, which was the better team in the opening minutes.
Amit Ben-Shushan made a brave tackle and set up Yoav Ziv in the area. Ziv used his pace to intercept the pass and rolled the ball past Oshri Levi to score his first-career goal for the yellow-and-black - against his former team.
But Upper Nazareth leveled the score with a Shahar Siman-Tov penalty in the 31st minute, after Tomer Ben-Yosef fouled Itai Shekhter in the box.
Betar was without key midfielders Maor Melikson and Aviram Bruchian, who were suspended for the game by the Israel Football Association, after the team ordered them to skip a training session with the national junior team.
"A poor performance despite the suspensions," a disappointed Luis Fernandez said after the game. "But there are always bad games. We shall do our best to improve on this performance."
Hapoel Kfar Saba 0, Hapoel Tel Aviv 1
Kfar Saba was under pressure from the very first minute with Elyaniv Barda instrumental in attack. But the hosts managed to foil the reds' raids and force a goalless first half.
Tel Aviv managed to score in the 60th minute when Gil Vermut's cross was headed in by substitute Ilya Yevorian.
The visitors had many chances to increase the lead, but Kfar Saba goalkeeper Avi Ivgi pulled off some spectacular saves to keep his team in the game till the final whistle.
Bnei Yehuda 1, Maccabi Netanya 0
The first half was played at a very slow pace with the players focusing on their defensive duties and failing to develop dangerous attacks.
Both teams looked to be content with a draw, until Eli Biton replaced Matte Baturina in the 79th minute and pulled off his heroics yet again.
The veteran winger scored the winner in the 87th minute after a brilliant slalom through the Netanya defense, giving the orange all three points.
Ashdod SC 2, Maccabi Petah Tikva 0
Holtzman scored in the sixth and 61st minutes, leaving Petah Tikva deep in the relegation zone ahead of next week's derby. Holtzman now leads the Premier League goalscorers race with 12 goals.
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