Maccabi Haifa remained 10 points clear of HapoelTel Aviv after the clash of the titans ended in a disappointing 0-0draw at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday night.Haifa entered thematch after winning 17 of its first 18 games of the season, whileHapoel had triumphed in 10 of its last 12 encounters.
However,more than anything else, both teams were desperate to avoid defeat onMonday, and Israel's two best sides canceled each other out.
An away draw at Kiryat Eliezer is usually a decent result forany side, but Hapoel may live to rue its negative approach on Monday,even with the league's new format meaning the gap will be halved aheadof the final five matches of the season.
Haifa created the better chances and, despite failing to claimall three points, is still comfortably in front at the top of standingsafter keeping its eighth consecutive clean sheet.
"There was a good pace to the game even though there were few chances," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said.
"We should have done better with our chances in the second half,but we played an excellent team which moves the ball superbly. Thestatus quo at the top continues and I think the championship will onlybe decided in the final matches of the season."
TheKiryat Eliezer stands were full more than 30 minutes before the startof the encounter on a cold Haifa night, creating the perfect settingfor the match of the season.
Hapoel pressured the hosts from the very beginning, but createdvery few chances and Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich had little work todo.
Davidovich made a mess of his save from Itai Shechter's shot inthe seventh minute, but fortunately for the 'keeper his defense clearedthe danger before Maharan Lala had the chance to turn the rebound intothe net.
Haifa was in no hurry at the start of the game and its lack of urgency meant it rarely threatened to score the breakthrough.
Vladimir Dvalishvili came closest in the 13th minute, with hisshot from the edge of the area being cleared only barely by Tel Aviv'sNeil Abarbanel.
Both teams dictated a fast pace to the match, with each side putting together several slick moves during a tense first half.
The level dropped dramatically after the break and both coachessoon made substitutions. The league's top scorer, Shlomi Arbeitman,came on for Lior Rafaelov in the 61st minute, with Tel Aviv's newsigning Daniel de Ridder replacing Lala.
Arbeitman's introduction did the world of good for the hosts, and Abarbanel began to be tested.
Dvalishvili came tantalizingly close to scoring the breakthroughin the 65th, but he failed to place a relatively simple header ontarget. Biram Kiyal wasn't far off two minutes later and Arbeitman alsohad a chance shortly afterwards, but Maccabi kept missing the targetand Abarbanel had no real trouble maintaining a clean sheet.DeRidder's Hapoel debut lasted just 15 minutes after the Dutch midfielderhad a clash of heads with John Culma and was substituted. Haifacontinued to create the better opportunities.
But as the match progressed a goal seemed less and less likely and a 0-0 draw was the only fair result.