Reds host Eindhoven, hoping to stay alive

Haifa welcomes Steaua Bucharest to Kiryat Eliezer; Maccabi Tel Aviv at Stoke.

Maccabi Haifa Vladimir Dvalishvili_311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa Vladimir Dvalishvili_311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After leapfrogging Maccabi Tel Aviv into first place in the Premier League standings over the weekend, Hapoel Tel Aviv turns its focus to resurrecting its Europa League campaign on Thursday night when it hosts PSV Eindhoven at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel was confident of finishing among the top two in Group C and advancing to the round of 32 at the start of its campaign, but a surprise 1-0 home defeat to Rapid Bucharest, followed by a disappointing 3-2 road loss to Legia Warsaw, changed all of that.
Hapoel still has to visit Eindhoven and Bucharest in its next two matches, and coach Dror Kashtan knows his team will need to get something from Thursday’s encounter against the strongest team in the group to have any real chance of progressing.
“As long as we have a chance to advance we must continue to fight,” Kashtan said. “We are facing one of the two top teams in the Netherlands and we are expecting a very tough encounter. The key will be to improve our conversion rate. We have reached plenty of chances in our matches, but we have failed to convert them. In this competition you pay a price at the other end if you fail to score.”
Eindhoven, which leads the group with two wins from two matches, only finished third in local league play in 2010/11 and is currently in third place after eight matches following its 1-0 win over FC Utrecht on Saturday.
Maccabi Haifa faces far easier opposition on Thursday, but it too will be desperate for a win when it hosts Steaua Bucharest at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Haifa has three points after beating AEK Larnaca at home and losing to Schalke 04 on the road, and coach Elisha Levy will be hoping his players wake up on the right side of the bed on Thursday.
Haifa, which has won its last five home matches in European competition, has been very erratic so far this season, and Levy knows that three points on Thursday would be a significant step on the way to the round of 32.
“I’m sure that if we play the way we did against Maccabi Tel Aviv we can overcome the Romanians,” said Levy, whose team has won just once in its past four league matches, drawing 1-1 against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba in its past two.
Unlike Hapoel and Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv never really believed it could progress from Group E, especially after only managing a 1-1 draw at home against Dynamo Kiev in its last match despite an impressive performance.
The yellow-and-blue faces a particularly difficult test on Thursday when it visits Stoke City at Britannia Stadium.
Maccabi lost its place at the top of the local standings after losing 2-1 to Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday, failing to win for the third time in four matches.
After finishing in 13th place last season and qualifying for Europe by reaching the FA Cup final – which it lost to Manchester City – Stoke has also gotten off to an impressive start this season, moving up to eighth place with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Fulham.
Stoke is unbeaten in eight home matches in all competitions this season, winning all three of its continental encounters as well as beating Liverpool in the league, while drawing against Manchester United and Chelsea.
“We’ve got to forget about what happened in the league and focus on Stoke,” Maccabi defender Yoav Ziv said.
“We are facing a completely different type of match in England, but we will do our best.”