hapoel tel aviv 248.
(photo credit: asaf kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv sent out a message of intent to the entire Premier League and especially Maccabi Haifa on Monday night, defeating Maccabi Netanya 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium to leapfrog the visitors into second position in the standings.
Hapoel is now tied on 31 points with Netanya, and by winning for the fifth time in its last seven matches moves to within four points of first-placed Haifa.
Monday's match was perhaps the best seen in Israel this season.
Hapoel took an early lead in the 11th minute thanks to Shay Abutbul, but Netanya seized the initiative in the final third of the first half and the match was tied at the break after Shalev Menashe scored in the 33rd minute.
Both teams played their best soccer of the season at the start of the second half, but crucially it was Hapoel which scored first when Samuel Yeboah headed the ball beyond Liran Shtrauber in the 59th minute.
Thierry Tazemeta's sending off 10 minutes later ended any hope Netanya had of leaving Bloomfield with a point and Hapoel claimed all three points and proved beyond doubt that the league title is within its grasp this season.
Hapoel set out to dominate the possession right from the start and Netanya allowed it to do so, hoping to hit the hosts on the break.
The visitors would find themselves a goal down after 11 minutes, however, with Tel Aviv's good ball movement paying dividend.
Abutbul found himself with plenty of space on the edge of the Netanya box and released an accurate shot into the bottom right corner of Shtruaber's goal to give Tel Aviv the lead.
Maccabi was struggling to create scoring opportunities against the Premier League's best defense, which had conceded just 10 goals in its first 16 matches of the season, and Hapoel was in complete control in the first half-an-hour of the encounter.
The visitors finally found their footing in the final 15 minutes of the first half and equalized with their first real shot at goal in the 33rd minute.
Tazemeta released an excellent cross and Menashe sneaked behind the Hapoel defense to smash the ball in and score his sixth goal of the season.
The goal injected life into a previously drowsy Netanya side and within the next five minutes the team twice came tantalizingly close to taking the lead.
In the 36th minute, a great Tazemeta back pass found new South African signing Siyabonga Nkosi in space and the forward laid the ball perfectly for Itai Shechter. Hapoel 'keeper Vincent Emyeama was already beaten, but defender Omri Canada came out of nowhere to clear Shechter's shot from the goal line.
Just a minute later Netanya had another superb chance to take the lead before the break after Tazemeta's wayward shot was almost turned in by a Menashe volley.
The second half began in a scintillating pace with both teams pushing forward in search of the decisive second goal.
Netanya would register the first chance of the second half in the 48th minute. Shechter broke down the left flank and found Tazemeta in the box, but the Cameroonian's shot was denied by the post and Menashe missed the rebound by centimeters.
Despite reaching the better opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Maccabi failed to find the back of the net and in the 59th minute Hapoel made the visitors pay from a set-piece.
Abutbul's corner was headed in by the league's leading scorer Yeboah, who netted his 12th goal of the season.
Just two minutes later Tel Aviv almost took advantage of the shell-shocked Netanya, with Bibres Natcho's excellent shot from the edge of the box only being denied by a superb Shtrauber save.
Maccabi continued to search for an equalizer in the subsequent minutes, but its game-plan fell apart in the 69th minute after Tazemeta received his second yellow card in a minute and left his team with 10 men.
The Hapoel defense didn't have any trouble containing 10-man Netanya and cruised to an important victory to move up to second position in the standings.