Maccabi Tel Aviv retakes place atop table

Marquee duel on tap between yellow-and-blue and Maccabi Haifa • Hap TA continues climb

Israel soccer story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Beersheba  (photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
Israel soccer story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Beersheba
(photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
Maccabi Tel Aviv downed Hapoel Beersheba 2-1 in Israel Premier League action as striker Nick Blackman bagged a brace for the two-time defending champion as it moved back into first place ahead of its clash with Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday.
The yellow-and-blue took the lead in the 42nd minute when Eylon Almog sent a brilliant cross into the box that Blackman nodded behind a helpless Ohad Levita for a 1-0 advantage just ahead of the break.
Blackman doubled the Maccabi lead in the 56th minute when he tapped home a Tal Ben Chaim rebound, but Sagiv Yehezkel pulled a goal back 15 minutes later in a classic case of too-little-too-late as Patrick van Leeuwen’s squad recorded the win and took the three points.
“I believe that we deserved to win as we were the better team,” Van Leeuwen commented following the game as he also looked ahead to his club’s “Match of the Season” at Haifa. “There’s no pressure. We want to win every game just like this one and the one coming up against Haifa.”
Beersheba coach Roni Levy lamented his team’s loss.
“This was very disappointing,” said Levy. “There were a lot of good things that came out of this game and now we have to get ready for our next game, so we don’t have time to dwell on this one. We will do the maximum to get into Europe as we have a good team.”
Up north, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Petah Tikva played to a 1-1 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium by the Carmel Mountain and the Greens are now focused on their top-of-the-table duel with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Tjaron Chery found the back of the goal in the 17th minute after taking a Sun Menachem cross to give Barak Bachar’s side a 1-0 lead. But starlet Liel Abada beat Haifa ’keeper Josh Cohen in the 50th minute to draw Guy Luzon’s squad even.
Haifa controlled the pace of play and had multiple chances to find the winner as time wound down, but couldn’t find a way past Arik Yanko as the teams split the points.
“Despite the poor result, we did a lot of good things in the second half,” noted Bachar. “We had plenty of chances, but Yanko was having a great day. We had a good game, but just had some bad luck and we have to just move on. I have no complaints as the guys created so many opportunities.”
Petah Tikva coach Guy Luzon was proud of his players’ effort even in defeat.
“We came into this game to take points and we did so even though Haifa was the better team in the second half,” Luzon stated. “They attacked and we couldn’t take advantage of the counters that we could have created. Our season has been a success to date and we have to just win as many games as possible and take as many points as we can.”
Elsewhere, Ashdod SC and Ironi Kiryat Shmona drew 1-1 to split the points at the port city to kick off the Championship Playoffs.
Muhamed Shaker broke the deadlock in the 37th minute when Lucio fed him a perfect pass to give the northerners a 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, things went from bad to worse for Ashdod as Roie Gordana was sent off after his second yellow card, reducing Ran Ben Shimon’s squad to 10 men for the balance of the match.
However, Zakaria Mugeese, who was making his debut for Ashdod, took a Tom Ben Zaken ball and slammed it home in the 63rd minute to earn a point for his side.
“It was our fault that we lost the two points,” began Kiryat Shmona coach Kobi Refuah. “I’m disappointed in the attacking effort and I will do as best as I can to get us into a European qualification place by the end of the season.”
Ashdod boss Ran Ben Shimon was pleased with the result, especially from his short-handed club.
“I had to be very active on the sidelines in order for us to come back and draw with only 10,” explained Ben Shimon. “The players needed the energy coming from the bench and after not starting the game well we were able to go to a Plan B. We still have a long way to go in the playoffs.”
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv slipped by Hapoel Hadera 1-0 as it continued to move further away from the relegation zone and climb up the table.
After a goalless first half, striker Shlomi Azulay found the ball in the box after an errant clearance by Hadera and slotted it home for the only marker of the match in the 53rd minute giving the Reds the valuable three points.
“This wasn’t a game played at a very high level, but when you are playing in the relegation playoffs the pressure is always on,” said Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Nir Klinger following the win. “After our first goal I thought we would score a second, but we just couldn’t. Our mission now is to collect as many points as we can and guarantee our spot in the top league for another season.”
“We played fantastic football and had many chances, but we couldn’t finish,” Hadera coach Menachem Koretzky said. “I have no complaints, sometimes you just can’t score and that’s unfortunate. Every game is critical now and we have to gain as many points as we can.”
Tel Aviv’s goal-scorer Azulay also reflected on his goal and the win.
“I waited a long time for the win and I am happy that I finally scored. We began the relegation playoffs on the right foot and I hope that we can continue this way.”