Israel Premier League leader Maccabi Tel Aviv traveled up north to face second-place Maccabi Haifa at a sold-out Sammy Ofer Stadium on Monday night with only three points separating the two squads and came away with a dramatic 4-3 triumph.
Coach Vladimir Ivic’s yellow-and-blue jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a 13th-minute tally by Avi Rikan, and then extended the advantage on a 48th-minute goal from Eyal Golasa.
However, Maccabi Haifa stormed back, with Nikita Rukavytsya and Yanic Wildschut scoring back-to-back in the 60th and 62nd minutes to knot the match at two apiece.
With the crowd going wild, Yonatan Cohen gave Tel Aviv the lead once again, putting in the rebound off his own missed penalty in the 69th minute, but second-half substitute Mohammed Awad scored in the 88th minute to draw the Greens even once again at 3-3.
However, Cohen would have the last word when he slammed home the extra-time winner to give Maccabi Tel Aviv the three points and extend its lead atop the table.
Meanwhile, Beitar Jerusalem and Ironi Kiryat Shmona played to an entertaining 2-2 draw in driving rain at Teddy Stadium in the capital city as Gaeten Varenne’s brace for the hosts bookended Ismaeel Ryan’s double for the visitors.
Budding star Gadi Kinda fed the ball in the box to Shlomi Azoulay, who in turn handed it off to Varenne who put it behind ’keeper Gad Amos for a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. However, Ryan slammed the ball home 16 minutes later to draw Koby Refuah’s side even and then took a Cillian Sheridan pass to complete his brace in the 38th minute and give the northern side a 2-1 advantage before the break.
Haim Shabo, who replaced the suspended Roni Levy on the Beitar sideline, saw his squad press for an equalizer, which it found in the 57th minute when a give-and-go between Kinda and Varenne ended with the latter drawing Beitar even at 2-2.
The yellow-and-black looked for a winner over the final half-hour, but couldn’t break the Kiryat Shmona defense as the sides split the points.
“The result is a bit of a disappointment,” said Shabo following the game. “But we have to be pleased that we were able to comeback from a deficit situation. We had plenty of chances to win the game, but we were also playing without a number of regulars in the lineup.”
Varenne also spoke about his two-goal performance.
“It’s too bad we drew, but on a personal level I am very happy to have scored a pair of goals and that I was able to help the team. We needed to press a bit more and we paid the price. However, we showed character in the second half to take a point.”
Elsewhere, Hapoel Tel Aviv stunned Hapoel Beersheba 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium as the Reds continued to move up in the standings under Nir Klinger.
Omri Altman sent a magnificent through pass to Stefan Spirovski, who made no mistake with it in beating Ohad Levita one-on-one in the box as he placed the ball perfectly into the far corner for the lone strike of the contest.
“Things are really beginning to look exactly as how I want them,” said Klinger following the win. “We had even more chances to score, but I’ll take the three points. We deserved the victory as we continue to climb up the table, steadily coming out of a big hole that we had dug for ourselves earlier in the season.
Also, Maccabi Netanya got back onto the winning track after two losses in a row with a 2-1 away win over Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Roie Kehat broke a scoreless deadlock in the 71st minute when he scored in the box to give the Diamond City squad a 1-0 lead. But five minutes later the hosts drew even when Yahav Afriat scored the equalizer. However, Tzlil Nehemia beat Kfar Saba ’keeper Itamar Israeli to hand Slobodan Drapic’s Kfar Saba the three points.
“There are games that you enter with your backs against the wall especially after a pair of defeats that you expected to take points in,” said Drapic. “I’m very happy that we won and this was an important victory for us as we continue on our journey.”
In other action, Hapoel Hadera dropped struggling Hapoel Haifa 2-0 in dominant fashion.
After a goalless first half, Mohammed Abu Fani helped Sharon Mimer’s squad get on the board when his pinpoint perfect assist to Lucio allowed the striker to easily beat Reds ’keeper Jasmin Buric for a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.
Hadera doubled its advantage in the 73rd minute when Abu Fani sent a magnificent ball into the right hand corner of the Haifa goal from outside the box. The three points gave Hadera an impressive 22 on the season.
“I have to take my hat off to the guys,” said an ecstatic Mimer. “We created many chances which is exactly how I like to see my team play. Hopefully some of the teams below us on the table will lose and that way we won’t have to battle relegation for the rest of the season.”
Ashdod SC defeated visiting Hapoel Ra’anana 3-0, with Hamoudi Kna’an opening the scoring in the 25th minute with a gorgeous 25-meter strike to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Right before the break, as Ra’anana looked to draw even, Yarden Cohen was issued his second yellow card and was sent off, leaving the visitors with 10 men for the balance of the game.
Ashdod took full advantage of the extra man as Dean David and Ya’akov Berihon each found the back of Asaf Tzur’s goal to wrap up the comfortable victory.