Local Soccer: Gregory’s Nazareth stuns Maccabi TA

Betar Jerusalem coach Amsalem drops first points; Hapoel TA routs Ra’anana.

ahi nazareth tomer hemed 311 (photo credit: MK Productions)
ahi nazareth tomer hemed 311
(photo credit: MK Productions)
Calls rang out for Avi Nimni’s head at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday afternoon as his Maccabi Tel Aviv side suffered its seventh straight game without a win with a sensational 1-0 defeat at the hands of John Gregory’s lowly Ahi Nazareth.
Elsewhere Saturday, despite an unimpressive display, Hapoel Tel Aviv beat basement boys Hapoel Ra’anana 4-1, while high-flying Betar was brought back down to earth in a goalless draw at Hapoel Ramat Gan, ending the Jerusalem side’s run of five successive victories.
Also Saturday, Tel Hen was once again the match-winner for Bnei Sakhnin, this time in a 1-0 win against Ashdod. The result means that the on-form northerners could pip Yossi Mizrahi’s men next week to a place in the top-six playoffs, which would be a quite amazing turnaround for Marco Balbul’s boys.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Netanya’s end-of-campaign misery continued with a 2-1 defeat at Hapoel Petah Tikva, while Omer Damari’s last-minute strike grabbed a 2-2 draw for Maccabi Petah Tikva at Acre.
In the day’s other game, Hapoel Haifa against Hapoel Beersheba finished goalless.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 0, Ahi Nazareth 1
Just two points from a possible 21 have put Maccabi Tel Aviv in grave danger of missing out on European qualification, a feat Nimni has repeatedly asserted is simply a must for the club this season.
His opposite number John Gregory, meanwhile, couldn’t hide his delight after his team, which had lost 5-0 in three of the previous four games, pulled off one of the shocks of the season.
“It was an amazing performance,” said the Englishman. “We played like soldiers. We came with a game plan and everyone stuck to their jobs.”
Yaniv Luzon got the all-important goal after 24 minutes, chipping a neat ball to Tomer Hemed and walloping the Nazareth striker’s return pass into the roof of the net.
Yossi Shivhon then had a glorious opportunity to level, but after collecting Emmanuel Mayuka’s cross in front of goal, he snatched at the shot and Joslain Meyebi made a smart save.
Nazareth nearly went in at half-time two goals to the good when Shlomi Hanuka got on the end of Luzon’s cross, but his shot under pressure – albeit seemingly unfair pressure – from Guillermo Yisraelevich rolled tamely into the arms of Liran Strauber.
Tel Aviv lacked creativity and was repeatedly frustrated by a stalwart Nazareth backline, particularly Anderson West, who performed gallantly after returning from a lengthy injury layoff.
The home team’s best opportunity in the second-half came when Yuval Spungin’s ferocious volley was palmed out by Mayebi, and although Ilya Yavruyan found the net with the rebound, the Armenian was flagged offside.
All-in-all, Tel Aviv was devoid of ideas, and judging by Saturday’s performance, Nimni – assuming he still has his job – will have to add to new signings Yoav Ziv and Roberto Colautti if his team is to have any chance of challenging for honors next term.
Hapoel Ra’anana 1, Hapoel Tel Aviv 4
Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman made his players study last week’s Champions League quarterfinal match between Arsenal and Barcelona in order to warn them against the complacency shown by the Spanish giants.
And although his side ran out comfortable winners in the end against the league’s bottom club, after a game in which his side had some seriously hairy moments, the Hapoel coach wasn’t all that satisfied that his players had learned the lessons of Wednesday’s match at the Emirates Stadium.
“We have a problem with attitude,” he said. “Too many players approach the game with the mindset that it’s just a question of how many we’ll score.”
Tel Aviv survived an early scare after only 40 seconds when Brazilian Cristiano Dos Santos rattled the bar, but Gutman’s men responded in perfect fashion, going straight up the other end to take the lead.
Dani Bondar crossed from the right, Itai Shechter dummied and Gili Vermut finished under Shaul Smadja.
Ra’anana refused to lie down though, and on the stroke of half-time, the hosts got a deserved equalizer. Tel Aviv failed to clear a corner, with the ball eventually coming out to Frenchman Steven Cohen, who gracefully slotted the ball home.
The Reds regained the lead at the start of the second period, but one couldn’t help but feel a tad sorry for Ra’anana.
Moments after Avi Knafo had missed a one-on-one with Vincent Enyeama,Shechter was bundled over in the box by Omri Atia, and the Tel Aviv‘keeper, so many times the hero at both ends, emphatically convertedthe spot-kick.
The visitors made it three just before the hour.
Shechter was in the thick of things again, cutting in from the left andplaying the ball across the box to Bojan Vrucina, who drove the ball invia the unfortunate Smadja.
And the deadly Shechter wrapped up the win four minutes from time,chesting down Omri Canada’s deep cross just inside the box beforecrashing in an unstoppable effort which beat Smadja at his near post.