Atar, Mac Haifa still searching for answers

With Ramat Hasharon looming, coach refuses to give up despite sole victory.

Reuven Atar 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Reuven Atar 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Reuven Atar must be an awful poker player. The Maccabi Haifa coach has one of those expressive faces that reveal all. You could watch any of his post-match press conferences without sound and still you would know not only if his team won or lost but exactly what Atar felt about it.
The former Maccabi Netanya coach looked like a man in the midst of torture in his post-match TV interview after Monday’s 1-1 draw against Bnei Yehuda, which left Haifa in the relegation zone with just six points from eight matches, having still won only a single game so far this season.
He seemed close to breaking down in tears when he spoke about how Haifa had reached a “catastrophic situation” before apologizing to fans and saying that he is “ashamed” of what has unfolded since he took charge of the team in the summer.
Haifa was of course supposed to be one of the main contenders for the Premier League championship, but after its worse ever start to a campaign it would now happily settle for a season of mediocrity.
Two days after his near-meltdown, Atar was fully energized and in a combative mood once more as he spoke confidently about leading Haifa out of the crisis.
“I’m not giving up and I will never give up,” said Atar on Wednesday with an expression that echoed that exact sentiment.
“Clearly we are in a bad situation, but I still believe that together with the players we can get the team out of this situation.
“Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you begin to climb back up.”
Haifa owner Jacob Shahar continues to back Atar and the usually impatient fans remain largely supportive of the coach after calling for the appointment of the Greens playing legend for so many years before finally being granted their wish.
“I accept all the criticism,” added Atar, who takes his team to Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday.
“But sometimes everything can change with one match. And that will happen.
“As crazy as this may sound to all the skeptics, you will see that in two months time everything will be different.”
Elsewhere Saturday, Betar Jerusalem visits Bnei Sakhnin in the traditionally heated showdown that pits two in-form teams looking to gather momentum after a slow start to the season.
Betar and Sakhnin picked up a combined three points from their first five matches of the campaign, but both have since caught fire to surge up the standings.
Avi Rikan’s stoppage-time goal against Ramat Hasharon last Saturday gave Betar its third straight win and took it up to fifth place in the table, while Sakhnin won its second consecutive game and extended its unbeaten streak to three matches with a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa.
Ashdod SC can climb to first place for at least 24 hours should it triumph at rock-bottom Hapoel Haifa on Saturday.
League-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Hapoel Tel Aviv in the much-hyped derby on Sunday.
Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda hosts Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Beersheba visits Hapoel Acre, while Hapoel Ramat Gan welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday.