Soccer: Tel Aviv derby stalemate costly for Maccabi

Hapoel Tel Aviv goal-scorer Aaron Schoenfeld (left) battles Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Omri Ben-Harush (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Tel Aviv goal-scorer Aaron Schoenfeld (left) battles Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Omri Ben-Harush
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped two more precious points in the Premier League title race on Sunday night, only managing a 1-1 draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby at Bloomfield Stadium.
The three-time defending champion was hoping to close back within three points of Hapoel Beersheba, but lost ground on the league leader for a second straight week, with its second draw in a row leaving it five points back of first place.
Maccabi had to come back from behind to draw 2-2 at Beitar Jerusalem last week and found itself a goal down after less than two minutes on Sunday, with Aaron Schoenfeld scoring with his first touch as a Hapoel player, six days after completing his move from Maccabi Netanya.
Hapoel’s lead lasted 22 minutes until Dor Micha’s cross eluded everyone and dropped into the net.
Maccabi controlled proceedings for the remainder of the night, but it failed to convert its possession into scoring opportunities and was frustrated by Eli Gutman’s organized team.
Hapoel climbed out of the relegation zone with the draw, but is only ahead of Hapoel Acre on goal difference.
Hapoel couldn’t have wished for a better start to the match, with Knoxville, Tennessee, native Schoenfeld embarrassing the Maccabi defense at the first opportunity.
The 25-year-old American-Jewish striker played for the Columbus Crew in the MLS before joining Maccabi Netanya last month. However, after just two matches for Netanya and with the club in a desperate financial situation, Schoenfeld was sold to Hapoel with Fadi Najjar in a deal worth NIS 1.7 million, with Maccabi also reportedly bidding for his services.
Maccabi surely regretted missing out on Schoenfeld after seeing his shot in the back of the net after 110 seconds, with the striker outrunning Maccabi defender Eitan Tibi and making the most of goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic’s hasty foray forward.
Schoenfeld was one of three January signings handed their debut by Gutman on Sunday, with Nemanja Nikolic and Hamza Barry also in the starting lineup.
It took Maccabi 10 minutes to regain its composure, but the hosts wouldn’t need too long to seize the initiative, leveling the score in the 24th minute. Micha was looking for Eran Zahavi with his cross, but both his teammate and the Hapoel defense missed the ball which flew untouched into the bottom right corner.
Maccabi dominated the possession in the second half, but struggled to break through Hapoel’s defensive formation.
Nevertheless, the hosts should have won the game with the final touch of the match, only for Dor Peretz to send his free header wide from five meters out.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem aims to further cement its hold on third place in the standings when it visits fourth-place Hapoel Ra’anana in Netanya. Beitar can open a seven-point gap over Ra’anana with a victory, which would only be its second from five matches. After losing just one of 10 games, Beitar fell at Hapoel Kfar Saba, and after beating Bnei Sakhnin, was beaten by leader Hapoel Beersheba before drawing with Maccabi Tel Aviv last week. Ra’anana can close within a single point of Beitar with a third straight win on Monday.