Hap TA back on top with shutout of Haifa

Decisive win puts Reds eight points ahead of rival Greens; now clear favorites to take title.

HAPOEL TEL AVIV’S Omer Damari 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
HAPOEL TEL AVIV’S Omer Damari 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The 2011/12 Premier League season has yet to even hit its halfway mark, but there is little doubt Hapoel Tel Aviv took a significant step towards a second championship in three years on Monday night by defeating Maccabi Haifa 3-0 at Bloomfield Stadium.
Despite its erratic start to the campaign, Haifa was widely regarded as Hapoel’s main rival for the league title this season.
However, Tel Aviv’s victory over the reigning-champion takes it a substantial eight points clear of Haifa, which is still searching for the consistency that took it to a seventh league title in 11 years last season.
Hapoel, on the other hand, managed to grind out results even when it was still finding its way at the start of the season and there is little question that it is now the team to beat after finally hitting its stride.
Two goals in four second-half minutes from Elroei Cohen (49) and Omer Damari (52) secured Hapoel’s deserved win, with Toto Tamuz ensuring the Reds returned to the top of the standings in style by putting the icing on the cake in stoppage time.
Hapoel squandered superb chances to take the lead in the first half, but the hosts didn’t have to wait long before finding the back of the net after the break.
The signing of Cohen may have been initially regarded as a flop, but the midfielder has blossomed under Dror Kashtan’s guidance and he gave Hapoel the lead four minutes into the second half with a stunning shot from 20 meters out.
Three minutes later, Cohen sliced the Haifa defense with his pass to Damari, who turned Haifa’s Yampolsky and fired beyond Bojan Saranov for his 10th league goal of the season.
Haifa threw caution to the wind after that, but it couldn’t score the goal needed to mount a comeback and Tamuz wrapped up the scoring in stoppage time to give Hapoel a win that could prove to be the turning point of the season.