Local soccer: Haifa, Mac Tel Aviv set early pace

Champions come from behind to beat Hapoel Ra'anana 3-1; Nimni's men win comfortably, 2-0 at Hapoel Petah Tikva; Netanya battles back to draw at Acre.

maccabi haifa hapoel raanana 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
maccabi haifa hapoel raanana 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa emerged as the early Premier League pacesetters on Saturday afternoon, with Avi Nimni's men running out comfortable 2-0 winners at Hapoel Petah Tikva, and last season's champion managing to avoid a Champions League hangover, coming from a goal down to win 3-1 at Hapoel Ra'anana. Elsewhere, a 78th-minute goal by Bulgarian striker Dimitar Makriev helped Ashdod to a 1-0 victory at Hapoel Haifa and Maccabi Netanya's Chen Ezra cancelled out an early goal by Hapoel Acre's Geva Barkai to secure a 1-1 draw and spare Nati Azaria's side more blushes against Premier League newboys following last week's loss to Hapoel Haifa. Also Saturday, in an entertaining game at Winter Stadium, Hapoel Beersheba came from behind twice though Evyatar Iluz and Ohad Kadousi to equalize efforts from Benny Haddad and George Datoru of Hapoel Ramat Gan and draw 2-2. Hapoel Ra'anana 1, Maccabi Haifa 3 Maccabi Haifa once again survived a scare against a newly-promoted side, and just like last Saturday against Hapoel Acre, Shlomi Arbeitman came to the champions' rescue. Coach Elisha Levy's side fell behind to Ra'anana on 58 minutes in rather unfortunate fashion. Tamir For's powerful header from an Omri Atia cross came back off the bar, but then hit the back of Haifa ' keeper Nir Davidovich and bounced agonizingly into the net. However, the lead lasted a mere eight minutes, with Arbeitman slotting into an empty net after som e lovely link-up p l a y involving substitute B iram Kiyal and sensational South African full-back Peter Masilela. Six minutes from time, the Champions League qualifier was ahead. Gustavo Boccoli floated a free-kick into the box, Vladimir Dvalishvili headed it on, and Arbeitman, who was just whiskers onside, expertly hooked the ball in beyond a static Shaul Smadja. Masilela flew down the wing to set up Dvalishvili for the third on 87 minutes, but Levy wasn't overly satisfied with the performance. "We were very weak in the first half, we lacked aggression," bemoaned the Haifa coach, adding that due to his team's Champions League exploits, he will have to juggle with his squad this season. "I'm going to have to make changes… we're going to have to get used to a rotation," he said. Hapoel Petah Tikva 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 Maccabi was way on top in the first period against a negative Petah Tikva, and deservedly took the lead on the half hour. Man-of-thematch Guillermo Israelevich drove at the Hapoel defense, poked the ball through to Yossi Shivhon, who in turn played in Ilya Yavruyan for his third goal of the season. An unmarked Shivhon headed in a Yuval Avidor cross to double Tel Aviv's lead on 41 minutes. And the visitors would have gone into the dressing room three goals to the good had Eli Abarbanel not managed to hook away Tamir Kahlon's chip from just in front of goal after a devastating run by the Maccabi midfield maestro. Hapoel's only serious effort on goal in the first 45 minutes was an Elnatan Salami long-range effort which was well held by Maccabi stopper Liran Struaber. The hosts slightly improved in the second period, with the lively Aymen Abu Saleh testing Struaber and Emmanuel Mathias blazing over from eight yards, but Maccabi ran out comfortable winners in the end, much to Nimni's delight. "We were really, really excellent in the first half, we dominated and created a lot of chances," said the Maccabi coach. "We weren't as good in the second period, we were a bit tired and took our foot off the gas, but I'm really, really pleased with the players." Despite the impressive start to the season, with two wins from two games, Nimni stressed that his team was by no means at its peak at such an early stage, saying the club was being "patient" and that there would be a gradual improvement.