Mac Haifa hangs on for crucial victory

After uneventful first half, Greens stave off late surge from Netanya to take game 2-1.

Maccabi Haifa players mob Wiyam Amasha 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa players mob Wiyam Amasha 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa survived a tense finish to return to winning ways in the Premier League on Monday night, recording a nerve-racking 2-1 victory over Maccabi Netanya at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
After losing two straight league matches and suffering a disappointing Europa League exit last week, Elisha Levy’s days as Haifa coach seemed numbered.
The Greens were bitterly poor in the first half once more on Monday, but a Wiyam Amasha penalty in the 50th minute released plenty of pressure and the hosts seemed to be cruising after Dela Yampolsky doubled the advantage nine minutes from time.
However, Ahmed Saba’s goal four minutes later ensured there would be a nervy finish and Haifa only just held on thanks to goalkeeper Bojan Saranov and a little good fortune.
“This is a real challenge, but I believe I can overcome it,” said Levy, whose team is still 10 points behind league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona. “The season is still young and nothing is over yet. We need to be mentally strong and we will be okay.”
Anyone who might have wondered why both teams have struggled so desperately in recent weeks, got an answer in the first half, with Haifa and Netanya’s inaccuracy and ineptitude making for a dreary first 45 minutes.
The only real chance of the first half arrived in the 43rd minute, with Sari Falach firing straight at Netanya ‘keeper Amir Edri from close range after an Idan Vered corner.
Levy’s halftime talk must have inspired his players as Haifa finally showed some purpose after the break and didn’t take long to net the opener.
An excellent double-save by Edri from Eyal Golasa and Vered in the 48th minute kept Netanya on level terms, but there was nothing the goalkeeper could do two minutes later.
Amasha was dragged down in the box by Omri Ben-Harush and the striker stepped up to slot in the spot kick to score once more against Netanya after netting four goals against Reuven Atar’s team in the season opener.
Captain Yaniv Katan should have doubled Haifa’s advantage in the 68th minute, but he shot well wide from a golden opportunity.
However, Netanya had nothing to offer, and after two more excellent Edri saves from Yampolsky and Amasha, the hosts finally scored a second.
Ten minutes after coming on as a substitute, Yampolsky smashed the ball beyond Edri to the relief of the Haifa bench which assumed the three points were secure.
However, an Alon Turgeman miss at one end was quickly followed by a Saba goal at the other and the match was all of the sudden wide open with five minutes to play.
Saba almost grabbed a dramatic equalizer in the 89th minute, but Saranov pulled off a brave save and the Greens held on for a nail-biting win.
“This was a very important win,” Amasha said. “We need to take things week by week, but I believe the title race is still open.”