Hapoel Tel Aviv moved into second position in the Premier League standings with the sweetest of victories on Sunday night. Hapoel may not have been at its fluid best in the 1-0 win over arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium, but it was still too good for the yellow-and-blue and deserved to claim all three points.
Hapoel coach Eli Gutman was clearly thrilled with his team's win.
"There is no bigger joy than winning the derby," Gutman said. "We did not play as well as we did in previous matches, but we showed a lot of character tonight."
Gutman's team has won three straight matches in all competitions, thrashing Rapid Vienna 5-1 and beating Ahi Nazareth 4-0 before Sunday's victory. On Thursday, Hapoel visits Vienna in the Europa League.
Douglas da Silva scored the only goal of the match in the 12th minute, heading Bibras Natcho's cross into the back of the net. Maccabi had plenty of possession, but failed to convert it into scoring opportunities, and Hapoel maintained its lead with ease.
"We are very disappointed," Maccabi coach Avi Nimni said. "We are repeating the same mistakes and despite managing to slowdown Hapoel's attack, failed to create chances.
"The fact that Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel are clearly better than the entire league does not comfort us. The derby is more important than just any other match, but sadly you can not always have your way."
The magnitude of the occasion was clearly getting to both sides at the start of the encounter, and nerves resulted in errant passing and numerous turnovers.
In the 12th minute, Hapoel registered the first chance of the night and made it count. Natcho's cross from a free kick was powerfully headed into the back of the net by da Silva, with Maccabi 'keeper Liran Strauber having no chance.
Instead of making the most of its talented strikers and pushing forward for a second goal, Hapoel sat back after taking the lead, allowing the yellow-and-blue to dominate the possession.
Maccabi was in control, but desperately struggled to create chances. In the 27th minute, Yuval Avidor shot at goal and four minutes later Guillermo Israilevich hit the target with his header, but Hapoel 'keeper Vincent Enyeama was not really tested in either occasion.
Despite being on the back foot, it was Hapoel which came closest to scoring before the break. Six minutes to the interval, Gili Vermut controlled the ball superbly before hitting the crossbar with his shot, with Itai Shechter going close a minute later with a powerful right-footed attempt.
The match continued to be evenly balanced at the start of the second half, with the hosts creating the first scoring chance. Once more da Silva rose highest, but his header was stopped on the goal line by none other than his defensive teammate Dedi Ben-Dayan, who failed to turn it into the back of the net.
Seven minutes later, Hapoel came tantalizingly close yet again. Nemanja Vucicevic's clever chip seemed to be heading into the back of the net, but Strauber stretched himself just enough to keep the ball out.
The next 10 minutes belonged to Maccabi and the visitors came centimeters from tying the score. Substitute Emmanuel Mayuka's header in the 68th minute had beaten Enyeama, but the hosts were spared after the ball only shaved the upright on its way out.
Two minutes later Hapoel was left wondering what might have been after Shechter somehow sent his header wide, keeping Maccabi's hopes of a comeback alive.
However, for all their possession, Nimni's men never really seriously threatened Enyeama's goal and Hapoel comfortably held on for the memorable victory.
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