Local Soccer: Hap Haifa humbles Maccabi TA to continue hot start
Local Soccer Hap Haifa
By JONNY HADI
What a sensational start to the season by Hapoel Haifa!
The top-flight newcomers looked far from that on Saturday afternoon, moving up to a lofty third in the league with a stunning 3-1 win at home to previously unbeaten Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Elsewhere, blistering Betar Jerusalem brushed aside Hapoel Petah Tikva with a first-half goal blitz courtesy of Idan Tal, Barak Itzhaki and Amit Ben-Shushan.
Also Saturday, Omri Afek and Liran Cohen gave Bnei Yehuda a 2-1 win at home to Sakhnin, for whom Tal Hen scored a last-minute consolation penalty, and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth moved off the bottom of the table thanks to Tcham N'Toya's late winner against Hapoel Acre.
Maccabi Netanya is still winless after going down to an early Kobi Hassan penalty at Hapoel Ramat Gan, while Tal Ben Haim's brace and an Omer Buchsenbaum strike helped Maccabi Petah Tikva to a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to Hapoel Beersheba, for whom Yossi Ofir was sent off.
At Hapoel Ra'anana, Ashdod's Idan Shriki canceled out an early goal by Frenchman Steven Cohen in a 1-1 draw.
Hapoel Haifa 3, Maccabi Tel Aviv 1
Maccabi Tel Aviv was clearly second best at Kiryat Eliezer, where Hapoel Haifa's football was, quite simply, a pleasure to behold.
Despite Haifa 'keeper Galil Ben-Shaanan making a brilliant save to deny Yuval Avidor in the opening stages, the home side took what was a well-deserved first-half lead after 28 minutes.
The instrumental Eran Levy burst through from midfield and played in Yerro Belo, who skipped past Maccabi's stand-in 'keeper Guy Solomon before slotting the ball into an empty net.
The hosts doubled their lead 11 minutes after the restart when Eyal Tartazky swapped passes with Amir Abu Nil and unleashed an unstoppable left-foot shot that beat Solomon at his near post.
American Bryan Gerzicich put the game out of sight on 70 minutes, meeting Belo's cross with a bullet header which flew past a helpless Solomon.
Tartazky brought down Avidor for a 77th-minute penalty which was duly dispatched by Ilya Yavruyan, but it was too little, too late for Avi Nimni's men.
Haifa coach Shlomi Dora hailed his players for "believing in themselves."
"We proved we can even beat a club as massive as Maccabi Tel Aviv," he said.
"It's a long season, but we've already said that Hapoel Haifa belongs in the top half of the table," he added confidently.
Nimni was gracious in defeat.
"They played better than us and deserved to win. Well done to them," said the Maccabi coach.
Betar Jerusalem 3,
Hapoel Petah Tikva 0
It felt like it would only be matter of time before the floodgates would open at Teddy Stadium, the only surprise was that it took Betar 26 minutes to break the deadlock.
After Aviram Bruchian and Shimon Gershon had gone close, the former found Itzhaki, whose first-time cushioned pass was poked under Hapoel Petah Tikva 'keeper Snir Dori by Tal.
Six minutes later, it was 2-0. Itzhaki played a one-two with Idan Vered on the left of the penalty box before curling a marvelous effort into the top corner.
Tal was shown a red card for an inexplicable off-the-ball barge on Osman Bashiru, but that didn't stop the hosts scoring again before the break. A perfectly-weighted pass by the inspirational Itzhaki found Ben-Shushun, who knocked the ball under Dori.
Itzhak Schum's men took their feet of the pedal in the second period, and the visitors went close with Idan Srur rattling the crossbar before Betar 'keeper Ariel Harush saved well from Elnatan Salami.
Betar substitute Toto Tamuz nearly repeated last week's heroics in the closing minutes, but his spectacular long-range strike after an audacious turn came back off the woodwork.
Despite the comfortable win, Schum wasn't overly pleased with the performance and was somewhat critical of his players for not scoring more, noting, however, that the Betar squad is the youngest he's ever coached.
"We've played better in the past and not scored, there's still room for improvement," he said. "The aim of football is to score, so I'm happy we did that today, even though we didn't do it enough."
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