Mac TA makes emphatic statement in Haifa

Itzhaki’s opener, Prica’s pair propel first-place yellow-and-blue to rare road rout of Greens.

MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Rade Prica 370 (photo credit: Uzi Gal)
MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Rade Prica 370
(photo credit: Uzi Gal)
For the first time in more than nine years, Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday night, outplaying the Greens in a resounding 3-0 victory to climb to the top of the Premier League standings.
The reigning champion comfortably soaked up the pressure in the first half before striking three times after the break through Barak Itzhaki (50) and substitute Rade Prica (60, 75) to defeat the Greens on the road for the first time since May 2004.
Despite struggling to a 1-0 win over Bnei Yehuda in its previous league game and only drawing 0-0 with APOEL Nicosia in its Europa League group opener on Thursday, Tel Aviv sent out a statement on Monday.
The yellow-and-blue has already opened a six-point gap over the team considered to be its main title rival, with Haifa suffering its third straight defeat in all competitions after also losing 1-0 to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League last week. Haifa hit the ground running at the start of the match, but it had nothing to show for its early pressure, struggling to create scoring opportunities.
Haifa wasn’t anxious about sending plenty of players forward, giving Tel Aviv all the breathing room it could have hoped for at Kiryat Eliezer. However, chances were still at a premium, with both teams lacking cutting edge in front of goal.
The hosts almost gifted Maccabi the opener in the 42nd minute, but Bojan Saranov was quick to close down Munas Dabbur after the striker picked off Shimon Abu Hazeira’s careless back-pass.
After easily holding off Haifa in the first half, Tel Aviv was more purposeful after the break and it quickly got its reward.
Itzhaki should have really opened the scoring three minutes into the second half, but his wastefulness was quickly forgotten after he netted the breakthrough in the 50th minute.
Maharan Radi squared the ball from the right after a swift break forward and Itzhaki used his chest to tuck the ball in from close range.
Itzhaki already rounded Saranov in the 59th minute, but his shot from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Edin Cocalic and Haifa remained within striking distance.
However, seconds after Dino Ndlovu squandered an opportunity for the Greens at one end, Tel Aviv struck at the other, with Prica scoring just two minutes after coming on as a substitute.
The Swedish striker was relegated to a substitute’s role after a disappointing start to the season, but made his presence felt on Monday with a delightful chip over Saranov in the 60th minute, with Eran Zahavi providing the assist.
Prica ended any illusion Haifa may have had of mounting a comeback with a second goal in the 75th minute and the hosts didn’t even manage to score a consolation goal, with Ndlovu and Hen Ezra hitting the woodwork in quick succession in the 82nd minute to cap a forgettable night for the Greens and a memorable one for the yellow-and-blue.