Local Soccer: Hap TA frustrated in draw with Sakhnin
Gutman's club squanders two crucial points in title race with lackluster effort at home.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv will enter next week's decisive match against Maccabi Haifa in second position after only managing to draw 1-1 with Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.
Hapoel took the lead in the 18th minute thanks to Douglas da Silva's header, but was pegged back immediately, with Sakhnin tying the score less than a minute later after Maharan Abu Raiya snuck behind the Tel Aviv defense to head in the equalizer.
Tel Aviv was in front of Haifa on goal difference ahead of this weekend's action, but while Maccabi managed to take all three points with a 2-0 victory over Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan, Hapoel was held to a draw and now trails Haifa by two points.
Hapoel will now need to win at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium next Monday to return to the top of the standings, and with just two more matches remaining in the season after next week, Monday's result may well end up costing it the title.
Hapoel went in search of an opener right from the kickoff and after less than two minutes nearly got the better of Sakhnin 'keeper Meir Cohen.
Maharan Lala created himself space with a nice turn on the edge of the box, but his powerful shot was just off target.
The hosts would take the lead with their second real chance of the match.
Da Silva timed his jump to perfection and headed Bibres Natcho's corner beyond Cohen to give Tel Aviv the lead.
However, even before the players could finish celebrating, Sakhnin tied the score.
Abu Raiya was just offside when Hamad Ganayem struck his excellent cross, but the referee's assistant didn't spot him and the midfielder headed in the equalizer.
It took Hapoel 10 minutes to recover from the shock of conceding a goal so quickly after scoring one, but when it finally did create another chance, it came centimeters away from taking the lead once more.
After a good team move, Natcho sent the ball into the box and despite having plenty of space and time, da Silva could do no better than head the ball just over Cohen's goal.
With Sakhnin content to sit back and Hapoel lacking a creative touch, it was no surprise both teams struggled to create scoring opportunities.
The remainder of the first half was pretty much eventless and there wasn't much improvement after the break.
Tel Aviv may have needed the points for its title challenge, but Sakhnin was desperate to leave Bloomfield with something to boost its hopes of survival and kept the hosts at bay with a disciplined display.
Eran Kulik's men didn't allow Hapoel to find any rhythm and Sakhnin was the more dangerous team throughout the second half.
The visitors rarely threatened, but were very nearly gifted the winner five minutes from time when Walid Badier's back pass almost made its way to substitute Ibrahim Bassit, who would have had an open path to the goal.
A minute later, Tel Aviv reached its best chance of the second half, but Cohen stopped da Silva's header with an acrobatic save and the visitors held on for a deserved draw.
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