Haifa battles back to draw in Kazakhstan

Greens erase two-goal deficit to pick up first Europa point with 2-2 tie after key substitutions.

Maccabi Haifa (photo credit: Maccabi Haifa website)
Maccabi Haifa
(photo credit: Maccabi Haifa website)
Maccabi Haifa fought back from two-goals down to draw 2- 2 at Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan on Thursday night, picking up a creditable point to kick start its Europa League Group L campaign.
Haifa entered the match with its back against the wall after collecting just a single point from its past three Premier League games and losing 1-0 to AZ Alkmaar in its Europa group opener two weeks ago. It could have easily fallen to pieces after finding itself in a two-goal hole at halftime, but the introduction of Alon Turgeman and Hen Ezra at the break completely changed the complexion of the encounter, with the latter cutting the deficit before the former secured Haifa a point with a sensational long range effort in the 78th minute.
Haifa still failed to win for a sixth consecutive match in all competitions, but coach Arik Benado will draw far more positives than negatives from Thursday’s performance as the Greens look to get their league campaign back on track when they host Hapoel Beersheba on Sunday.
Later Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv faced Girondins de Bordeaux in Europa League Group F action in France.
Shakhter put Haifa under early pressure and should have really taken the lead after just six minutes. Right-back Aleksandar Simcevic found himself with all the time in the world and with only goalkeeper Bojan Saranov to beat, but he showed exactly why he plays in defense rather than attack when he blasted his shot high above the goal.
Haifa survived Karagandy’s initial onslaught and had its fair share of possession in the remainder of the first half. However, the Greens lost their composure in the final five minutes of the half and paid a dear price.
Andrei Finonchenko’s header was not accurately placed, but it was more than powerful enough, not giving Saranov enough time to react.
Matters only got worse for Haifa in the final minute of the half, with Yevgeni Tarasov finding himself unmarked inside the area and placing the ball beyond Saranov to give the Kazakhs an advantage they scarcely deserved.
Benado made seven changes to the lineup that started against AZ two weeks ago, but his experiment clearly failed in the first half, prompting the coach to bring on Ezra and Turgeman at the start of the second half.
The double substitution paid off almost immediately, with Ezra finding the bottom left corner with a precise effort in the 54th minute after Turgeman broke down Shakhter’s defense with his persistence.
Turgeman was solely responsible for Haifa’s equalizer, stealing the ball from the Karagandy defense in its own half before sending a stunning shot from 20 meters out into the top right corner, silencing the crowd at the Astana Arena.
Haifa continued to press forward in search of a winner, but it was almost caught off guard in the 88th minute, only for Sergei Khizhnichenko to miss his header from two meters out.
Haifa survived the scare and held on for a valuable point, one which also helped regain some lost pride after a rocky start to the season.