(photo credit: )
Hapoel Tel Aviv's title aspirations received a huge psychological boost on Sunday night after it defeated champion Maccabi Haifa 2-0 at Bloomfield stadium.
The first goal was always going to be crucial in the evenly balanced match and it was Hapoel substitute Gili Vermot's strike in the 52nd minute which put the reds on the road to victory.
The loss was Haifa's second in four league matches and the last thing the team wanted before its first game in the UEFA Cup group stage on Thursday. Maccabi will host French side AJ Auxerre at Bloomfield and will need a vast improvement if it's to get a favorable result.
"This is a bad result," Haifa coach Roni Levy said after the match. "We played well in some parts of the game, but we failed to take
advantage of our chances. The UEFA Cup game is a totally different story."
Hapoel is also in action in the UEFA Cup on Thursday, traveling to Greece to play Panathinaikos.
Hapoel seemed the likelier team to score at the start of the match and four minutes after kickoff almost went ahead. Elyaniv Barda's shot got
a wicked deflection but went just wide of Haifa keeper Nir Davidovich's goal.
Seven minutes later Tel Aviv nearly scored once again after an excellent move ended in a Salim Toema shot from 25 meters out that missed the target.
Haifa finally got its first chance of the match in the 23rd minute when Gustavo Boccoli was inches away from scoring with his 25 meter free kick.
A minute later Maccabi came close once more after Alain Masudi received a great pass from Roberto Colautti in the Hapoel box but failed to get his shot on target.
Hapoel was pleased to go into the break with the score tied, but seven minutes into the second half found itself ahead.
A Davidovich blunder found its way to Tel Aviv substitute Gili Vermot who had the simple task of slotting the ball into an empty net to give his team the lead.
Cheered by its goal, Hapoel continued to press forward and almost doubled its lead in the 56th minute.
Toema set up Barda perfectly for a volley - however Davidovich was at his best to save the shot. A minute later the Haifa keeper had to come
to his team's rescue once more, brilliantly aving Walid Badir's shot.
After surviving the Tel Aviv barrage, Maccabi began to search for an equalizer. In the 61st minute Yaniv Katan came agonizingly close when his shot was deflected and hit the crossbar.
Haifa continued to push forward and in the 85th minute substitute Shlomi Arbitman was only denied by a last second lunge by the Hapoel defense.
At the start of the six minutes of stoppage time the visitors came close to scoring once more when Katan's free kick flew across the face of goal but lacked a finishing touch.
Three minutes into injury time, the match was finally settled. Barda broke free of the Haifa defense and rounded Davidovich to give his team an unassailable lead.