Mac Haifa feeling pressure after rocky start

Greens in desperate need of victory at Sakhnin following humiliation against Mac TA.

Maccabi Haifa players after loss to Mac TA 370 (photo credit: Uzi Gal)
Maccabi Haifa players after loss to Mac TA 370
(photo credit: Uzi Gal)
After the nightmare start to last season, the kickoff to the 2013/14 campaign couldn’t come soon enough for Maccabi Haifa.
However, just like last year, Haifa’s hopes of reclaiming the championship lay in ruin with the season barely underway.
Monday’s resounding 3-0 loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium was Haifa’s second defeat in just three contests, leaving the Greens six points behind the reigning champion from Tel Aviv. After losing in three of last season’s first four matches, there was no way back for coach Reuven Atar, who was ultimately replaced by Arik Benado.
Haifa lost just three of the campaign’s remaining 26 games under Benado’s charge, but the coach enters Saturday’s match at Bnei Sakhnin feeling the pressure after the shock 3-2 loss to Ashdod SC was followed by Monday’s humbling at the hands of the yellow-and-blue.
A visit to Sakhnin’s Doha Stadium is a tricky tie at the best of times, not to mention in Haifa’s current situation.
While there’s no indication that Haifa owner Jacob Shahar is losing patience with Benado, there is no guarantee that another setback on Saturday will not result in a snowball effect which will end up costing Benado his job the way it did Atar, who also seemed untouchable at the start of last season.
“I don’t think we are in a crisis,” Benado said after the defeat to Tel Aviv, which was Haifa’s third straight in all competitions.
“We have already proven this season that we are a good team. I still believe in my team and players. There is still a long way to go this season.”
Sakhnin will enter the encounter brimming with confidence after amassing seven out of a possible nine points from its first three games. Last week’s impressive 4-2 victory at Bnei Yehuda was the clearest indication yet that unlike last season Sakhnin is seeking far more than just survival this term.
“We have a very strong team this season and we are not surprised with the results we have recorded so far,” said Sakhnin midfielder Mohammad Ghadir, who will be facing his former team. “The match against Haifa will be a test of our character.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be hoping to ride the momentum of its emphatic victory in Haifa, which was its first versus the Greens at Kiryat Eliezer in over 9 years, when it hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
The yellow-and-blue has yet to concede a goal in the league this season and will be aiming to make it four wins out of four and remain ahead of the also-perfect Hapoel Beersheba, which doesn’t host Bnei Yehuda until Monday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to build on its first win of the campaign when it visits Hapoel Haifa. Tel Aviv scored its first goals of the season in the 3-1 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva on Sunday, while Haifa has seven points from nine following its 1-0 win over Beitar Jerusalem.
Also Saturday, Ashdod hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and Hapoel Acre visits Petah Tikva.
Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Jerusalem in Netanya on Sunday.