Once rock-steady, Mac TA now fighting to stay afloat

A season that had promised so much for Maccabi Tel Aviv just a few weeks ago is in danger of spiraling out of control.

Eliran Atar 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Eliran Atar 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
A season that had promised so much for Maccabi Tel Aviv just a few weeks ago is in danger of spiraling out of control should the yellow-and-blue fail to win at Hapoel Acre in Premier League action on Saturday night.
After beginning its league campaign with five wins in six matches, Maccabi has managed just a single victory in its last five games, drawing twice and losing twice, including a 1-0 defeat to Betar Jerusalem in its most recent encounter two weeks ago.
Tel Aviv has also struggled desperately in the Europa League, picking up just a single point from its first four group matches.
And, with next week’s derby showdown against Hapoel Tel Aviv quickly approaching, anything but three points on Saturday will be disastrous to Maccabi’s title challenge.
“There is little doubt that this is a very important match for us as we want to keep pace with the top of the standings,” coach Moti Ivanir said on Thursday.
“Anyone who thinks that there are easy matches in this league is very mistaken. We will need to be ready and determined to leave Acre with a win.”
For the second straight year, coach Eli Cohen has inspired Acre’s squad of misfits to play far better than the sum of its parts.
Acre is just two points back of Maccabi in fourth place and brings a five-match unbeaten streak into Saturday’s encounter.
One of Acre’s main tasks on Saturday will be to keep Maccabi’s potentially lethal strike force subdued for at least another match.
Maccabi has scored just a single goal in its last three league matches, with its top scorer from last season, Eliran Atar, not finding the back of the net since September.
Atar has faced harsh criticism for his performances in recent weeks, but he hit back at a press conference on Thursday.
“I was forced to come and speak,” Atar said. “I’m here to talk about the storm the media has created. People have tried to create a rift between Moti [Ivanir] and myself but they didn’t succeed.
I don’t know where they got the stories about me being poison in the dressing room.
“I have been through a tough month in the press, but the match on Saturday can help me put it all in the past.”
A win for Maccabi will move it tied on points with league-leader Hapoel Tel Aviv, which doesn’t host Hapoel Ramat Hasharon at Bloomfield Stadium until Sunday.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona, also three points back of Hapoel, visits Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, looking to return to winning ways after having its four-match winning streak snapped with a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Kiryat Shmona’s nine-match unbeaten streak is the longest in the league, but Bnei Yehuda will not go down without a fight on Saturday, proving as much in its draws with Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Sakhnin, Ashdod SC visits Hapoel Petah Tikva, Hapoel Beersheba welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva and Maccabi Netanya plays Hapoel Rishon Lezion, which is winless in its last nine.
Betar Jerusalem hosts its first match at newly-renovated Teddy Stadium on Monday when Maccabi Haifa visits the capital.