Hap TA, Mac Haifa head in opposite directions

Hapoel Tel Aviv moved back within touching distance of the top of the Premier League standings.

TAL BEN-HAIM 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv moved back within touching distance of the top of the Premier League standings on Monday night, claiming an emphatic 3-0 victory over the woeful Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel, which also has a game in hand, closed to within three points of league-leaders Ashdod SC and Maccabi Tel Aviv, while Haifa dropped to its fourth defeat in seven matches, compounding the pressure on under-fire Greens’ coach Reuven Atar.
Haifa remained in 12th place on a measly five points, with a slightly superior goal difference the only thing keeping it out of the relegation zone.
“This team was built under pressure because of the ownership change in the off-season, but I think that we can achieve some nice things with this squad,” said Hapoel coach Yossi Abuksis, who continues to stand in for the ailing Nitzan Shirazi.
“We scored some nice goals on the break and the players deserve every credit.”
Hapoel hosts Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic in the Europa League on Thursday before visiting Betar Jerusalem for a crunch showdown next Monday.
Atar dropped captain Yaniv Katan from the lineup after his mediocre start to the campaign, but he did not receive the reaction he was hoping for from the rest of his squad.
There was very little to write about in the first 20 minutes, with both teams too tentative.
There were worried expressions on the Hapoel bench in the 20th minute when goalkeeper Apoula Edel pulled up lame after making a save, but he continued until the break before being subbed by Boris Klaiman.
By that stage, Hapoel took a stranglehold on the match, with Tal Ben-Haim exposing Haifa’s vulnerable defense on two occasions to give the hosts a two-goal halftime lead.
Hen Ezra and Dino Ndlovu squandered two chances for Haifa before Toto Tamuz cut through Haifa’s feeble defense and laid the ball off for Ben- Haim, who easily avoided the challenge of Dekel Keinan and rolled in the opener.
Ben-Haim did all the hard work himself one minute from the interval, breaking down the left flank before squaring the ball for Omer Damari, who was not going to miss in front of an empty net.
Atar introduced Katan and Shlomi Azulai in place of Ezra and Ndlovu at the break and Klaiman had to be at full stretch to deny Azulai two minutes into the second half.
Haifa could muster little else until the 80th minute when Ze’ev Haimovich was adjudged to have pulled down Alon Turgeman in the box.
Katan stepped up to take the penalty, but he blasted it well wide and Hanan Maman put the icing on the cake with a brilliant solo effort in the second minute of stoppage time.