Haifa bounces back from Euro misery

Haifa bounces back from

maccabi haifa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi haifa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa rebounded from last week's Champions League disappointment in style on Saturday night, keeping its domestic title campaign on track with a comfortable 4-0 win against desperately poor Hapoel Petah Tikva. Star striker Shlomi Arbeitman scored twice for the visitors, bringing his tally to 13 for the season. Haifa stretched its lead over Hapoel Tel Aviv to nine points after the Reds' away game against Hapoel Acre was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at the stadium in Nazareth where Acre is hosting its games this season. Across town, new Ahi Nazareth coach John Gregory was given a stark reminder of the sheer scale of the task on his hands if he is to haul his side out of relegation trouble. The league's bottom side went down to an Amit Ben-Shushan goal at home to Betar Jerusalem in front of just 800 fans - a far cry from the English coach's Aston Villa days. Also Saturday, despite two early Eliran Atar strikes, Bnei Yehuda failed to hold on at home to Hapoel Beersheba, which earned an impressive 2-2 draw thanks to goals by Lior Asulin and Maor Melikson. Hapoel Haifa brought its dismal run to an end with a 2-0 win against Maccabi Petah Tikva at Kiryat Eliezer, and Hapoel Ramat Gan won by the only goal at Hapoel Ra'anana. Hapoel Petah Tikva 0, Maccabi Haifa 4 Although Shavit Elimelech insisted that his team "will get stronger," it's hard to see just how the new Hapoel Petah Tikva coach will turn things around for the side he took control of two weeks ago. Petah Tikva is still without a home win this season and appears to be in for a real relegation scrap. Haifa took time to shake off its midweek Champions League heartache - Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Bordeaux ensured Maccabi became the first team in the history of the competition to finish with zero points and zero goals. Jonathan Assous had a great opportunity to give the hosts a shock lead, but the former Maccabi Tel Aviv man smashed the ball over after a clever layoff by Ghanaian striker Osman Bashiru. Haifa's class soon started to shine through though, thanks in no small part to the lively Lior Rafaelov and Ali Ottman. On 29 minutes, the diminutive playmaker beautifully back-heeled the ball to Peter Masilela on the left, and the South African full-back's cross was flicked on by Vladimir Dvalishvili before being blasted into the top corner by Eyal Golasa. Rafaelov curled in a fabulous free-kick to double Haifa's lead four minutes later, and he soon should have made it 3-0, but blazed over with only Hapoel 'keeper Tzlil Hatouka to beat. The Hapoel defense was at sixes and sevens, and Ottman was giving the hosts a torrid time down the right. One of the winger's skillful runs ended with Arbeitman shooting straight at Hatouka when the striker really should have done better. It was always only going to be a matter of time before Arbeitman got on the score sheet though, and sure enough, on the stroke of half-time, the league's top marksman headed home Ottman's deep cross at the far post. Arbeitman made it 4-0 on the hour, slamming the ball past Hatouka after Masilela had characteristically skinned his marker and cut the ball back to the Haifa hit-man. Dor Halevi received his marching orders eight minutes from time for a wild challenge on George Teixeira to complete a miserable day for Petah Tikva, which has now had five players sent off this season. Haifa coach Elisha Levy was delighted with his side for performing well on a "very hard playing surface" and "for making a potentially difficult game easy." Despite its lead at the top, the Haifa coach insisted that the fight for the championship will be "very difficult", singing the praises of "excellent" title-race rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda.