Arbeitman celebrates 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa kept the pressure on Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday night, defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium to move back into a tie on points with the league-leader.
Haifa entered the match after one of the toughest weeks of its season and responded with a dominant performance. The reigning champion fell from first position in the Premier League standings after last week’s disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv, which continued its superb form by thrashing Ashdod SC 4-0 on Saturday to open a three-point gap at the top.
However, Haifa, which led the standings comfortably for much of the season, didn’t panic due to its new underdog status in the title race and had no trouble claiming all three points against an apathetic Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Avi Nimni’s men were embarrassing for much of the match and seemed to be more concerned with not helping their city rival in its surge to a first championship since 2000 than taking care of business and closing in on a Europa League berth.
Maccabi, which remains just three points ahead of Bnei Yehuda in the battle for third place, faces Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday and would like nothing more than wrecking its arch-rival’s title bid.
Despite the easy victory, Haifa, which hosts Betar Jerusalem at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in its penultimate league match on Saturday, could end up ruing its failure to make the most of its many chances to win by a greater margin on Monday, with goal differential quite possibly to decide the identity of the champion.
New Israel coach Luis Fernandez was in the stands for the first time since signing as the national team’s boss and he saw Haifa get the match off to a quick start. The Greens seized control of the possession right from the kickoff and didn’t need long to take the lead.
Ali Osman’s super cross in the 10th minute left Shlomi Arbeitman with the simple task of heading the ball into the back of the net from five meters out, and the league’s top-scorer made no mistake.
Arbeitman could have scored at least a hat-trick in the first half, but he was wasteful in front of goal. In the 15th minute, the striker did well to bring down Yaniv Katan’s pass with his chest, only to see his shot pushed onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Liran Strauber.
Six minutes later Strauber only barely kept out Lior Rafaelov’s attempt and despite reaching the rebound first, Arbeitman failed to control the ball and squandered another golden opportunity.
Tel Aviv was extremely poor and with Haifa in complete control it was only a matter of time until the visitors scored again. Arbeitman was denied once more in the 24th minute by a goal-line clearance from Igor Tomasic, but four minutes from the break Haifa finally scored the second goal it so deserved.
Rafaelov curled his free kick from 20 meters out into the top corner and was helped by Strauber’s late reaction.
The visitors continued to dominate in the second half and created scoring chances at will.
Haifa seemed far too content with its two-goal cushion, especially as
it has an inferior goal differential to Hapoel, and settled for a
victory which took it tied on points with the Reds, but leaves it still
five goals back of Tel Aviv.