Levy looks for answers as Haifa flounders

Greens host plucky Ramat Hasharon; first-place Reds welcome Hap Haifa.

September 23, 2011 06:49
4 minute read.
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Elroei Cohen celebrates

Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Elroei Cohen celebrates. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Even in their worst nightmares, coach Elisha Levy and Maccabi Haifa never dreamed that they would be entering Saturday’s Premier League match against Hapoel Ramat Hasharon just a single point ahead of the newly promoted side.

While Ramat Hasharon is delighted with amassing six points in its first five matches ever in the top-flight, Levy is scratching his head, wondering where it all went wrong after the reigning champion fell to its second defeat of the campaign on Wednesday, losing 2-0 at Bnei Sakhnin.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan until KRC Genk shattered Green hearts in the Champions League playoffs.

The penalty shootout loss to Genk was followed by a 2-2 draw with lowly Hapoel Petah Tikva, after which Haifa fell to its first defeat of the season, losing 1-0 at Ashdod SC.

On Sunday, Haifa needed two stoppage- time goals to edge newly promoted Hapoel Rishon Lezion 3-1, but the team’s poor performances caught up with it in Sakhnin, where perhaps most worryingly for its fans, it was simply outworked by the hungrier hosts.

“Sakhnin outplayed us in every [area of the game],” Levy said. “This is a very annoying defeat. We have no excuse.

The fans have the right to call for my resignation.

“We didn’t play as we should and I’m responsible for that. I don’t remember Haifa ever playing this bad under my guidance. I can understand the fans, but I still think that we will contend for the championship this season.”

Haifa already finds itself six points back of league-leader Hapoel Tel Aviv, which leapfrogged Maccabi Tel Aviv into first place after it beat Hapoel Beersheba 2-0 on Wednesday and the yellow-and-blue was stunned 3-1 at Ramat Hasharon.

Hapoel has gotten off to its best start since the 2002/03 season when Dror Kashtan was also at the helm, but the coach isn’t celebrating what would be his seventh championship just yet.

“There are still 32 more matches to play so we have a long way to go,” said Kashtan, whose team hosts Hapoel Haifa on Saturday. “We are facing another tough match against Haifa, which will be our fifth in 10 days, but we will not complain about fatigue.”

Like Beersheba, Haifa also enters Saturday on the heel of a five-match losing streak, but coach Nitzan Shirazi believes he can turn things around.

“I’m responsible for the team’s results and I’m the last person who will try to blame the players for what has happened,” Shirazi said after Haifa lost 4-2 to Hapoel Acre on Wednesday.

“However, I have no intention of leaving because I believe in my ability to get the team out of this situation.”

Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva at National Stadium in Ramat Gan, Maccabi Netanya visits Hapoel Acre and Ironi Kiryat Shmona welcomes Sakhnin.

After seeing its 100 percent start to the season end with the defeat to Ramat Hasharon, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be hoping to take out its frustration on Beersheba on Sunday.

On Monday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Rishon Lezion and Ashdod SC visits Bnei Yehuda.

Standings: Premier League GP W D L F-A Pts
Hapoel Tel Aviv                               5 4 1 0 10-2 13
Maccabi Tel Aviv                             5 4 0 1 12-4 12
Betar Jerusalem                              5 3 1 1 6-3 10
Maccabi PT                                     5 3 1 1 8-7 10
Hapoel Acre                                     5 3 0 2 9-7 9
Bnei Sakhnin**                                5 3 0 2 11-9 7
Maccabi Haifa                                 5 2 1 2 9-7 7
Bnei Yehuda                                    5 2 1 2 5-5 7
Rishon Lezion                                 5 2 1 2 8-9 7
Maccabi Netanya                            5 2 1 2 7-8 7
Ashdod SC                                      5 2 1 2 4-7 7
Kiryat Shmona                                5 1 3 1 4-5 6
Ramat Hasharon                            5 2 0 3 7-9 6
Hapoel Haifa                                   5 0 0 5 3-10 0
Hapoel Beersheba                         5 0 0 5 4-12 0
Hapoel PT*                                     5 0 3 2 5-8 -6

*Hapoel Petah Tikva was deducted nine points after going into liquidation
**Bnei Sakhnin was deducted two points for financial irregularities

Elisha Levy has seen his usually dominant Maccabi Haifa side struggle since its loss to KRC Genk in the Champions League qualifiers on August 23. The Greens are six points behind Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Premier League. (Asaf Kliger) On TV: Saturday: Hapoel Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Haifa (live on Sport 2 at 4:50 p.m.); Betar Jerusalem vs Hapoel Petah Tikva (live on Sport 2 at 7:20 p.m.)

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