(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona goalkeeper Shavit Elimelech must have been worried that the commemorative trophy he was awarded by Hapoel Tel Aviv on his first return to Bloomfield since leaving last summer, would turn out to be something of a Trojan horse, given how his former club performed away to Getafe in its UEFA Cup win last week.
However the gift was given with sincere intent and, as if to prove it, his former club followed it up with what must have been an even more rewarding gesture, only forcing him into one meaningful save in the whole match, and that in the 87th minute, as Tel Aviv lost 1-0 at home to Kiryat Shmona on Monday night.
Elimelech's new club on the other hand forced his successor Vincent Enyeama into a string of decent saves in the first half.
But even Enyeama could do nothing as his defence were caught ball watching in the 31st minute, when Maor Perez's pass found Yuval Avidor for an easy finish.
The Kiryat Shmona 'keeper admitted it had not been an easy night for him but he was proud of the result.
"It took me some time to get into the game. I was very emotional," Elimelech said after te final whistle. "Our players have a massive heart. This isn't an easy place to win."
Hapoel's interim coach Yossi Abuksis was less than satisfied, especially after his side had a contentious penalty claim turned down by the referee in the 26th minute
"I'm disappointed with the result and with the way we played," Abuksis said. "We didn't expect this, but that's soccer. We played nothing like we did against Getafe. I don't know how to explain this."
Both sides opened the match tentatively, as the ball was given away cheaply in midfield. But when there was an attack that had any teeth it was the visitors who created it.
In the sixth minute Emanuel Omongoa and Guy Tzarfati interchanged the ball smartly in midfield to set up Idan Srur, but his finish was weak and Enyeama easily gathered the ball.
Enyeama made two fantastic saves midway through the half. First Zarfati drilled the ball in from 25 meters out, and the Nigerian had to be at full stretch to push the ball over the bar with his finger tips.
From the resultant corner Omongoa, who was impressive throughout the match, rifled another long range shot in, but again Enyeama was equal to it.
Hapoel should have been given a penalty just before the half hour mark but referee Asaf Keinan failed to spot Amir Nosbaum's handball in the box after Idan Srur's header, infuriating Abuksis on the hosts' bench.
But there was still a sense of the inevitable when the breakthrough did come in the 31st and if Abuksis has more sense than his predecessor he will surely he spending some long hours on the training ground with his back four.
The host started the second half with a greater sense of urgency. Lior Asulin was introduced into what became a three pronged attack, with Srur in the center and Baruch Dego outside.
However, Kiryat Shmona were content to stick 10 men behind the ball and its long legged African midfield continually proved to strong and good at intercepting for Tel Aviv.
There was little play of any substance at all as the match wore on. Dego found himself tracking back so far to find the ball he could have been mistaken for a defender.
In the dying minutes Hapoel finally managed to put some pressure on the visitors. However, except for a shot from Reuven Oved that stung Elimelech's palms, they could not finish off their attacks.
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