Reds back atop table after derby triumph

Hap TA gets goals from three different players to keep yellow-and-blue in deep rut.

Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrates 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrates 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s stranglehold over the Tel Aviv derby remains as strong as ever after the Reds beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday night to climb back to the top of the Premier League standings.
Maccabi was hoping to break out of its current slump in a big way against Hapoel, but instead the yellow-andblue suffered a third straight defeat and its blinding start to the season is now looking like a distant memory after winning just once in its last seven matches.
Hapoel has been far from consistent itself, but it has raised its game when needed and recorded a deserved victory on Sunday.
Mario Pecalka’s header (38) and Elroei Cohen’s strike (45) right before halftime meant Maccabi was all but beaten by the break, and although Barak Itzhaki managed to get a goal back for the hosts following Gal Shish’s sending off, Hapoel held strong and secured the win through Shay Abutbul’s goal in stoppage time.
Sunday’s victory extends Hapoel’s unbeaten streak in league derbies to 10 matches, with Maccabi not beating its arch-rival since March 2008.
“We made sure Tel Aviv remained red and that is all that matters,” said goal-scorer Cohen. “We showed a lot of character and we deserved this win.”
Maccabi now finds itself seven points back of Hapoel, but coach Moti Ivanir refuses to be dragged down by yet another defeat.
“We still want to be among the top teams,” he said. “We never said we are aiming to win the championship.
We just want to get back on the right track. These are tough times, but we need to overcome them.”
The 135th Tel Aviv derby got off to a nervy start, with both teams largely inaccurate in the opening minutes.
However, both sides had their chances to make an early breakthrough, most notably Maccabi striker Eliran Atar.
After just four minutes, Atar should have made Hapoel pay for defender Iyad Khutaba’s mistake, but his shot was not good enough to get the better of ’keeper Apoula Edel.
Eleven minutes later, Atar had already rounded Edel, but Khutaba was on the line to clear the striker’s shot and make up for his earlier mistake.
After soaking up the early pressure, Hapoel was content on sitting back and hitting Maccabi on the break and its patience was rewarded in the 38th minute.
After a couple of close calls, it was defender Pecalka, of all people, who scored Hapoel’s opener, heading in Roei Gordana’s free kick.
The goal shattered the confidence of the frail Maccabi and Hapoel doubled its lead with the final kick of the first half.
Toto Tamuz crossed the ball from the left and Cohen patiently took his time before shaking both Moussa Konate and goalkeeper Barak Levy to slot in his second goal of the season.
It was clear Maccabi would throw everything it had at Hapoel at the start of the second half and Roberto Colautti came close in the 50th minute when his attempt was only blocked by some desperate Hapoel defending.
Four minutes later, Omer Damari could have clinched the victory for Hapoel, but he uncharacteristically fluffed his shot from five meters out.
Maccabi was thrown a lifeline in the 65th minute when defender Shish was sent off after foolishly making an obscene gesture towards Maccabi fans.
The hosts piled the pressure on Hapoel and 10 minutes after the sending off they got back into the match.
Atar crossed the ball from the right and much-maligned striker Itzhaki, who came on as a substitute just nine minutes earlier, headed beyond a helpless Edel.
Maccabi sent almost everyone forward in search of an equalizer, but Hapoel’s defending was resolute.
Colautti twice came tantalizingly close and Itzhaki almost scored again with two minutes remaining, but it would be Hapoel which found the back of the net again, with substitute Abutbul scoring past Levy in stoppage time to secure the sweetest of victories for the Reds.