(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa dropped two important points in the title race on Monday night after Maor Buzaglo scored against his former team in the 83rd minute to give Maccabi Tel Aviv a share of the points at Bloomfield Stadium.
Haifa dominated the proceeding in the first half and could have well led by more than the single goal, which was scored in the 30th minute by Gustavo Boccoli.
The visitors, however, made the mistake of taking their foot off the gas after the interval and, even though Tel Aviv was extremely poor on attack throughout the match, Haifa was made to pay for its defensive mindset in the second half when its former player Buzaglo equalized and made sure the match ended up tied at 1-1.
The single point means Haifa is only four points clear of second-placed Maccabi Netanya, with Hapoel Tel Aviv a further point back and Betar Jerusalem only eight points behind.
One point also doesn't do Maccabi Tel Aviv any real good, with the team still only four points above Ironi Kiryat Shmona in 11th position, which leads to a relegation playoff against a National League team.
The hosts seemed keener to get on the scoreboard in a scrappy first 10 minutes, but Haifa soon seized control of the encounter and began to threaten Dragoslav Jevric's goal.
Ten minutes into the match, Omri Afek released an excellent cross and Lior Rafaelov's header was only denied by an acrobatic save from the Tel Aviv 'keeper. From the ensuing corner John Culma went close with a header and in the 21st minute Jevric was beaten, but the post denied Shlomi Arbeitman the opener.
Haifa finally took a deserved lead in the 30th thanks to a superb Boccoli strike.
After the Tel Aviv defense failed to clear a corner, the Brazilian midfielder struck an unstoppable shot, blasting in the opener.
"I've waited a long time to score a goal like that," Boccoli said.
Haifa dropped its pace at the start of the second half, seemingly settling for its slender lead, and the hosts took the initiative.
Tel Aviv began to dominate the possession, but struggled to create scoring opportunities.
The 18-year-old Emmanuel Mayuka was the yellow-and-blue's most dangerous player and in the 68th minute should have really tied the score.
The striker found himself in space in the Haifa box, but failed to release his shot quickly enough and 'keeper Nir Davidovitch smothered the ball and cleared the danger.
In the 83rd minute Haifa was finally made to pay for its futility in the second half by none other than Buzaglo.
The midfielder picked up the ball on the edge of the area and released an accurate left footed shot which flew past Davidovitch and went in off the post.
"We knew Maccabi would come back at us in the second half because they had no choice," Boccoli said.