Soccer: Ten-point gap opens at top as Hapoel Tel Aviv slips up again
Soccer Ten-point gap op
By JONNY HADI
After a disappointing goalless draw at Maccabi Petah Tikva, Eli Gutman maintained that "thinking about the gap at the top is not something that we need to be doing," but the Hapoel Tel Aviv coach must surely have been seething inside after his team fell 10 points behind league leader Maccabi Haifa.
The table toppers, meanwhile, kept on winning, sweeping Hapoel Ra'anana aside 3-0 courtesy of a brace from Georgian striker Vladimir Dvalishvili and a Lior Rafaelov strike.
Elsewhere, goals at the death from Tomer Hemed and Ismail Amer gave Ahi Nazareth an impressive 2-2 draw at home to Bnei Yehuda, although John Gregory's northerners still remain bottom.
Also Saturday, the erratic Maccabi Tel Aviv made up some ground at the top end with a 1-0 win against Hapoel Petah Tikva, while Ashdod and Beersheba continued their impressive runs with victories against Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Ramat Gan respectively.
Maccabi Petah Tikva 0, Hapoel Tel Aviv 0
Once again, Hapoel Tel Aviv dropped points against a side from the bottom half, and in fact, Gutman's men have to count themselves lucky to escape from Petah Tikva with even a point after Saturday's wretched performance.
Hapoel had to do without its talismanic goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who is on African Nations duty. His understudy, Neal Abarbanel, was almost embarrassed in the opening minutes as Omer Damari's effort bounced up off the turf, but he managed to parry the ball away.
Some wayward Hapoel marking soon let in Tomislav Busic, whose diving header from Dan Roman's cross crept inches wide.
The lively Busic then latched onto Damari's reverse pass, but his shot under pressure was gathered by Abarbanel.
Hapoel awoke from its slumber toward the end of the first period with Bibras Natkho playing in Gili Vermut, but the ball ran away from the Hapoel midfield playmaker and Dragoslav Jevric came out to make a smart save with his legs.
Minutes later, the Petah Tikva stopper saved brilliantly from Maharan Lala, and Douglas Da Silva's effort was then cleared off the line by Macedonian midfielder Vanco Trajanov.
The last action of the half came at the other end though, as Abarbanel dropped the ball to Damari, whose hooked effort dipped over the bar.
The Petah Tikva pressure continued into the second half with Ori Uzan heading straight at Abarbanel, who moments later tipped Damari's ferocious effort around the post.
And Abarbanel saved Hapoel twice again in the closing stages, thwarting Damari on two occasions after the Petah Tikva striker had found himself one-on-one with the 'keeper.
The Tel Aviv defense was at sixes and sevens, and the chances kept on coming for the hosts right until the dying seconds when Damari played in substitute Haim Megrelashvili, who blasted his shot over the bar.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 1, Hapoel Petah Tikva 0
It was a feisty opening few minutes at Bloomfield, and Hapoel's Jonathan Assous was lucky not to get sent off for a dangerous foul on Yuval Spungiin.
Ghanaian Osman Bashiru then flashed an effort wide, while at the other end, an unmarked Yuval Avidor missed a golden opportunity to put the hosts in front, heading over Ivica Iliev's free-kick from a couple of yards out.
A neat Maccabi move ended in Shiran Yeini shooting over, but it was the visitors who should have broken the deadlock just before the break as Amnon Ben-Naim latched onto Emmanuel Matthias' excellent pass, stepped inside Lior Jan and blazed over with only Liran Strauber to beat.
The only goal of the game came in somewhat farcical fashion at the start of the second half.
A corner by the influential Iliev came off Matthias' knee, and in his attempt to clear the danger, Sagiv Cohen put the ball into his own net with his thigh.
The home side nearly doubled the advantage moments later when Yossi Shivhon collected Illiev's pass, but his shot curled agonizingly past the post.
Yeini was then guilty of one of the misses of the season when he somehow contrived to put the ball over from right under the bar after Jan's cross was flicked on by Ronny Gafney.
Petah Tikva then got back into the game, and Idan Srur's cracking effort from distance was saved well by Maccabi 'keeper Liran Strauber, who then had to be alert to prevent Elnatan Salami from reaching the rebound.
An atrocious error by Jan nearly gifted the away side an equalizer in the closing minutes, but, after being gifted the ball by the Maccabi defender, Salami's shot was pushed out by the diving Strauber.
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