Local Soccer: Haifa haunted by former coach Levy

New Mac PT boss beats the Greens 2-0; Betar throws away 2-0 win to draw with Kiryat Shmona.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Premier League title race was blown wide open on Saturday, as new Maccabi Petah Tikva coach Roni Levy made a dream start to his new job with a 2-0 win against former club Maccabi Haifa, while Hapoel Tel Aviv moved four points behind the league leader, beating Ashdod by the same scoreline. Roni Levy was ecstatic with the victory over Haifa. "I dreamed about an opening game like this," he said. "Haifa is a very strong side and, in my opinion, is on the verge of becoming champion." Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem missed a chance to keep up the pressure on the leading pack with a 2-2 home draw against Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Haifa looked sluggish at Petah Tikva, appearing to be feeling the pressure at the top. After a stale first half in which the two sides were restricted to long-range efforts by Petah Tikva's Lior Asulin and Haifa's Yaniv Katan, the second period came to life with a classy opening goal. Pablo Bastianini cut in from the left, skillfully beating Colombian midfielder John Culma and defender Alon Harazi, before clipping the ball to man-of-the-match Asulin, who wrong-footed Dekel Keinan and slammed it into the top corner. Thereafter, Petah Tikva defended stoutly, with Boban Grncarov and Moran Magamadov phenomenal at the back, while Roni Levy's men also looked dangerous on the break. The home side wrapped up the points with 10 minutes to go. A long goal-kick found its way to Asulin and the Petah Tikva striker flicked it on to Bastianini, who knocked it over Haifa 'keeper Nir Davidovitch and headed into an empty net. The Petah Tikva boss insisted that he "didn't really pay attention" to the crowd. "I am happy that our fans are encouraging me, but I know that this can turn around," he said. "At Haifa, they applauded me, but then after conceding one goal, got on my back. But that's part of the job and I need to cope with it." Haifa coach Elisha Levy wasn't hiding his disappointment at losing "three important points." "I certainly wasn't expecting such a performance. We were very weak and very nervous," he said. "Maybe the fact that the game was against Roni Levy had an effect, but we weren't [actually] playing against him, we were playing Maccabi Petah Tikva." Betar Jerusalem 2, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2 Betar appeared to be cruising to an easy 2-0 victory on Saturday evening, but negative play and a couple of lapses in concentration cost the reigning champion dearly. The hosts began brightly and were well worthy of an 11th-minute lead. After missing a one-on-one moments earlier, youngster Idan Vered latched on to a brilliant Barak Itzhaki through-ball and finished with aplomb. Before the break Betar's impressive left-back, Eliran Danin, hit the bar after linking up with Bruchian, and Itzhaki then went close with a header. Betar doubled its lead at the start of the second period. Danin's cross deflected to Bruchian, whose shot beat Ironi 'keeper Danny Amos and went in off the near post. Nevertheless, Betar then inexcusably sat back on its lead, and was made to pay in the last ten minutes. First, Yuval Avidor poked the ball in from close range after Betar failed to deal with a short corner. Then, in the second minute of stoppage time, Ironi's Yaniv Lavi stabbed a Jair Cespedes cross towards goal, Kale couldn't deal with the bounce and the ball nestled into the corner. Hapoel Tel Aviv 2, Ashdod SC 0 Ashdod SC coach Yossi Mizrahi was close to tears after watching his team go down to two late Hapoel goals following a turbulent mid-season break, during which his players were forced to train outside of the rocket-ravaged city. Mizrahi maintained that his side had played "excellently," been much more threatening and that Hapoel had created "one-and-a-half chances and scored twice." The hosts took the lead six minutes from time when Shai Abutbul whacked the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box after being set up by Gili Vermuth. Vermuth had a huge hand in the second, too, riding a couple of challenges before squaring it to Samuel Yeboah to knock the ball into the roof of the net. Bnei Sakhnin 0, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 1 Don't write off Hakoach just yet. The basement boys returned from the winter break to deservedly beat fellow-strugglers Sakhnin in a crucial bottom-of-the-table clash at Doha Stadium. The only goal of the game came after 28 minutes when Aviv Hadad headed in a Benny Hadad free kick. Bnei Yehuda 1, Hapoel Petah Tikva 0 Guy Luzon's men continued their impressive run on Saturday night in an enthralling game at Bloomfield Stadium. The winner came in the 51st minute. Tamir Kahlon broke down the right, got to the byline and found Eliran Atar, who fired the ball into the left-hand corner.