Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Paulo Sousa (right) and Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Ran Ben-Shimon (left)..
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
A week after coming back to register a remarkable triumph in the derby, Maccabi Tel Aviv was held to a 0-0 draw by Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday night, dropping two important points in the title race.
The defending champion increased its gap over Hapoel Beersheba at the top of the Premier League standings to just five points ahead of the showdown between the league’s two best sides at Bloomfield next Monday.
However, as disappointed as Maccabi was at claiming just a single point on Monday, it was fortunate not to end the encounter empty handed, with Israel Zaguri somehow only hitting the crossbar with his header in stoppage time before Omer Damari fired the rebound wide.
Maccabi was targeting its 16th victory from the past 18 league matches, aiming to open a seven-point margin over Beersheba with what could have been its sixth straight derby triumph.
However, Maccabi couldn’t muster last week’s magic, which saw it come back from 2-1 down in the 87th minute to claim a 3-2 victory with the last kick of the match thanks to Eran Zahavi’s hat-trick.
“I’m not disappointed. In the first half we controlled the game but made our decisions too quickly and we lost control of the game,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa.
“I think a goal in the 90th minute would have healed the wounds from last week,” said Hapoel coach Ran Ben-Shimon. “I’m very proud of how my players performed tonight after the week they just experienced.”
After the crazy ending to last week’s derby, both teams seemed happy to settle for a calm start to the match.
Hapoel, in particular, was delighted to play the waiting game in the opening stages, allowing Maccabi to control the possession but limiting it to very few scoring opportunities.
After his mistake gifted Maccabi the opener last week, goalkeeper Boris Kleyman was dropped in favor of Danny Amos. The return of Amos combined with that of center-back Branko Ilic, who missed last week’s derby after being suspended by the club, settled Hapoel’s defense and Maccabi had little success in breaking down coach Ben-Shimon’s formation.
The yellow-and-blue looked to attack the Hapoel defense via Tal Ben-Haim, who was one of three changes made to the lineup by coach Sousa, but his surges down the right flank failed to culminate in threatening chances in front of Amos’s goal.
It wasn’t until the 60th minute that hat-trick hero Zahavi reached Maccabi’s first real chance of the match, blasting his shot just above goal after Gal Alberman’s wayward shot fortuitously found its way to his feet.
Hapoel enjoyed plenty of the possession in the second half and should have really moved into the lead in the 69th minute. Eitan Tibi’s defensive blunder put Damari through on goal, but the prolific striker, who has already scored a league-best 21 goals this season, attempted a needlessly clever shot which went wide of Juan Pablo’s goal.
Juan Pablo had to be alert three minutes later to collect Sasha’s powerful effort from the edge of the area, and Maccabi may well have moved into the lead in the 78th minute had Barak Badash left the ball for the wide open Zahavi instead of sending a weak header wide of the upright.
It was Amos’s time to come to his team’s rescue with five minutes to play, denying Dan Eibinder’s curling effort with an acrobatic save.
It was Hapoel rather than the favorite hosts which reached the better chances to take all three points in the closing stages, but two bad misses by Zaguri and Damari ensured the match ended in a fair goalless deadlock.