Mac Haifa drops points with draw

Greens held by Netanya in regular season finale, now just a 2-point lead over Hap TA.

Lior Rafaelov 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Lior Rafaelov 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa will take just a two-point margin into the Premier League championship playoffs after drawing 1-1 at Maccabi Netanya on Sunday.
Haifa held a seven-point gap over Hapoel Tel Aviv entering this weekend’s matches, but the reigning-champion’s 2-1 win over Hapoel Ramat Gan coupled with Maccabi’s draw saw the lead cut to five points, with the halving of point totals reducing the margin to just two points after the Reds benefited from having their tally rounded up.
“It was cruel and painful to lose the championship last season, but we are not thinking of that at all,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “We need to make sure we are ready for our next match which will also be against Netanya and continue from there. I think the playoffs this season will be very difficult.”
Tomer Hemed gave Haifa the lead in the 56th minute on Sunday, but Netanya was the better team for much of the match and deserved no less than the point it got thanks to Ahmed Saba’s 67th minute equalizer.
The precious point took Netanya into sixth place in the standings and secured a championship playoff berth for Reuven Atar’s team, which was regarded as one of the weakest sides in the league entering the season.
Haifa and Netanya will not need to wait long before they meet again, with the Greens hosting Atar’s team at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium next week in their first match of the final five-game stretch to end the season.
“We began the season well, but then suffered a bit of a lull,” said Atar, whose team is unbeaten in its last 10 matches.
“The players have grown in confidence and experience as the season has progressed and it is showing.”
Also Sunday, Bnei Yehuda defeated Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium, recording its seventh victory in its past nine matches and ending its opponent’s hopes of reaching the championship playoffs.
Liroy Zhairi netted the opener in the sixth minute and the hosts all but clinched the win seven minutes into the second half thanks to Pedro Galvan’s 15th league goal of the season and eighth in as many matches.
In Netanya, the hosts got off to a bright start, looking to dominate the league-leader.
Haifa’s budget may dwarf Netanya’s, but the hosts were the better team throughout the first half and should have taken the lead before the break.
Sergy Tretyak squandered a good chance in the 12th minute when he could only register a weak shot from the center of the box and seven minutes later Firas Mugrabi only had goalkeeper Nir Davidovich to beat, but his cheeky chip was saved.
Coach Levy’s halftime talk seemed to inspire his players at the start of the second half as Haifa began to find its rhythm and dictate the pace.
Netanya had ’keeper Carlos Arias to thank for remaining deadlocked with Haifa five minutes into the second half after the Bolivian’s double save, first parrying Shlomi Azulai’s dangerous shot before keeping out Idan Vered’s close range effort.
However, in the 56th minute there was nothing Arias could do to deny the visitors the opener.
Azulai crossed the ball from the right and Hemed once more came to Haifa’s rescue, heading in his 11th league goal of the season and his ninth in the past 10 matches. Haifa’s lead, however, would last for just 11 minutes.
The Greens defense was caught napping by Dela Yampolsky’s long ball and Saba coolly slotted the ball beyond Davidovich to give the hosts a deserved equalizer and a well-earned point.