Maccabi TA soccer 248.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv may no longer have anything to play for this season, but its fans went home from Bloomfield Stadium with broad smiles on Sunday night after seeing their team dent arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv's title hopes with a 1-1 draw.
Hapoel dominated the first half and took a deserved lead in the 33rd minute when goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama converted a penalty kick.
However, the match was turned on its head in the second half, with Maccabi dominating the proceedings and tying the score in the 72nd minute thanks to Yossi Shivhon's goal.
Maccabi was closer to grabbing a winner in the remaining minutes, but neither side managed to score again and the encounter ended in a draw from which Maccabi Haifa is the main benefactor.
With five more matches to be played this season, Haifa has now got a two-point cushion over Tel Aviv at the top of the standings and will also be hosting Hapoel in its third to last match of the campaign.
"To be honest we didn't deserve to win," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. "A draw was a fair result and Maccabi deserved to equalize."
"We could have easily won," said Maccabi coach Avi Nimni, who celebrated his 38th birthday on Sunday.
"I'm a little disappointed with the result because we dominated the second half. The fans gave us a big push at the interval and that helped us get back in the match."
After a tense first 10 minutes, Hapoel seized control of the encounter and began to pressure Maccabi to its goal with the support of its fans and the superb atmosphere they created.
However, the hosts struggled to develop clear-cut chances and the closest they came to the opener in the first third of the match was in the 20th minute, when Ben Luz sent a left footed shot just side of Dragoslav Jevric's goal.
Hapoel would, however, get the reward for its dominant performance in the 33rd minute after Avihai Yadin was bundled over in the box by Guillermo Israilevich, leaving the guest referee from Cyprus, Kostas Kapitanis, with no option but to point to the penalty spot.
Enyeama converted the kick with ease, sending Jevric the wrong way, and the reds got the breakthrough they so deserved.
Just three minutes later the hosts had a golden opportunity to double their lead and coach Eli Gutman would have surely expected prolific striker Samuel Yeboah to find the back of the net.
However, the Ghanaian headed Bibres Natcho's free-kick high above Jevric's goal, and the visitors were spared.
In first half stoppage time, Maccabi very nearly scored an undeserved equalizer.
Maor Buzaglo's corner hit Hapoel midfielder Yadin and the ball went out off the post to Hapoel's relief.
Maccabi grabbed the initiative at the start of the second half, but for all its possession struggled to create any real scoring opportunities.
However, all that would change in the 72nd minute.
Buzaglo's free-kick from 25 meters out found Ilya Yavruyan with plenty of space a meter from Maccabi's goal and, despite Enyeama's excellent instinctive save from the Armenian striker's attempt,
Maccabi grabbed the equalizer after Shivhon was first to the rebound.
The visitors weren't content with the single point and immediately went in search of a winner.
Buzaglo came closest in the 77th minute when his shot from the edge of the box was barely kept put by a fully stretched Enyeama.
Hapoel never recovered from the shock of conceding the equalizer and failed to muster a reply.
Maccabi came closest to winning the encounter in injury time, but Scott Sealy sent his header straight at Enyeama and to Haifa's delight the match ended in a draw.