Mac Tel Aviv not to be denied in the capital

Standings summit seesaw continues as yellow-and-blue retakes first place; Beitar drops 4th straight.

Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Rade Prica 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Rade Prica 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv cruised back to the top floor of the Premier League table on Sunday night, beating Beitar Jerusalem 2-1 at Teddy Stadium for its third consecutive win.
For a second straight week, Maccabi entered its match knowing it would require a positive result to return to first place after being leapfrogged by Hapoel Beersheba.
However, the defending champion is so far showing no signs of feeling any pressure, taking the lead against Beitar through Rade Prica after just 67 seconds and maintaining full control until the final whistle.
Barak Itzhaki doubled the advantage two minutes from halftime with his first goal against his former team before Bryan Jones netted a consolation goal seven minutes from time.
“It wasn’t as easy as it looked,” said Itzhaki. “Even though we controlled the entire match, things got a little crazy after Beitar scored. We eventually won and that is all that really matters.
“I spent most of my career at Beitar and have some really good memories from the club,” added the striker. “I love many people here and I simply couldn’t celebrate my goal.”
Maccabi could well find itself behind Beersheba once more next week should the southerners beat Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday. The yellow-and-blue doesn’t host Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby until Monday and will surely face a far tougher challenge than the one posed by Beitar.
Jerusalem, guided by assistant coach David Amsalem following the sacking of Eli Cohen last week, dropped to its fourth straight loss and sits in 11th place in the standings, just two places from the relegation zone, but still seven points clear of the bottom two.
New Beitar coach Roni Levy, who was appointed on Friday, watched Sunday’s match from the stands alongside owner Eli Tabib and was given a crash course on the dire state of the team he inherits.
Levy, who guided Maccabi Haifa to three straight championships between 2004 and 2006, coached Beitar for six months before leaving in the summer of 2011 to join Romanian club Steaua Bucharest.
Levy resigned just three months later and guided Anorthosis Famagusta to a fourth-place finish in the Cypriot league in 2011/12 before being fired in April of this year.
He surely has big plans for Beitar, but will first have to steady the ship, starting with Saturday’s encounter at inform Bnei Sakhnin.
One of the most pressing problems Levy will have to address is Beitar’s defensive frailty, with Maccabi slicing Jerusalem’s back-four with ease with the match barely underway.
Eran Zahavi found Prica in space and the Swedish striker fired the visitors into the lead with an accurate left-footed shot.
Zahavi should have doubled the advantage in the 38th minute, failing to finish off an otherwise excellent solo effort. But Itzhaki would make sure his teammate’s miss would quickly be forgotten, scoring a minute later with a clinical shot.
Tal Ben-Haim and Prica squandered opportunities they would expect to convert in the second half and Beitar was handed a lifeline seven minutes from time after substitute Bryan Jones scored from the edge of the box with a sensational solo run.
The goal gave Beitar some hope, but the hosts couldn’t find an equalizer and will aim to embark on a new course starting from Levy’s first training session on Monday morning.
Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Ashdod SC on Monday night.