Reds can’t afford let-up vs Maccabi in TA derby

Hapoel enters this weekend’s matches in first place, but it desperately needs a victory over the yellow-and-blue.

Hapoel TA's Omri Kende 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel TA's Omri Kende 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
There is plenty on the line in every Tel Aviv derby between Maccabi and Hapoel, but it has been a while since there has been as much at stake as there will be in Sunday’s showdown between the fierce rivals at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel enters this weekend’s matches in first place, but it desperately needs a victory over the yellow-and-blue to boost its championship credentials after an erratic start to the season.
Although the Reds have thrashed Hapoel Petah Tikva and Hapoel Rishon Lezion by five and six goals, respectively, in recent weeks, Dror Kashtan’s team has won just three of its past seven matches, recording a disappointing 0-0 home draw against Hapoel Ramat Hasharon last week.
The unusual parity in the Premier League this season means that Hapoel leads the table despite its inconsistency, but its title challenge will come under extreme scrutiny in the coming weeks, with the Reds to host reigning-champion Maccabi Haifa and visit second- placed Ironi Kiryat Shmona after Sunday’s derby.
Hapoel may have been unconvincing so far, but Maccabi would be happy to trade positions with its archrival entering Sunday’s battle.
Having four points fewer than the Reds would not be such a worry for Maccabi had Moti Ivanir’s team been playing anywhere near to the sparkling level it displayed at the start of the season.
However, after winning five of its first six matches, Maccabi has completely lost its way, taking all three points only once in its six encounters since.
Ivanir’s men were completely outplayed in a 3-0 defeat at Hapoel Acre last week and a loss against Hapoel on Sunday will send the already unreasonably high pressure levels at Kiryat Shalom through the roof.
Maccabi could find itself as low as eighth place by the time it kicks off its match on Sunday, with Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin having the chance to leapfrog the yellow-and-blue with wins on Saturday.
After thrashing Betar Jerusalem 4-1, Haifa hosts high-flying Acre on Saturday, looking to win consecutive league matches for the first time this season.
Bnei Sakhnin hosts Maccabi Netanya in an intriguing affair between two of the surprise teams this season.
Also Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona can go top of the table for at least 24 hours with a home victory over Jerusalem, while Rishon Lezion hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva, Hapoel Beersheba visits Ashdod SC and Ramat Hasharon and Ramat Hasharon welcomes Hapoel Haifa. Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Bnei Yehuda on Monday.