Maccabi Tel Aviv's encounter tonight in Ashdod means yet another opportunity to lift a shroud hanging over the club that began eight years ago in Ashdod and simply refuses to go away

In the 2005/6 Israeli Premier League season, matchweek five summoned Maccabi Tel Aviv to a tricky away match at Ashdod FC's Yud-Alef Stadium. After 74 minutes of goalless play, Maccabi's then head coach, Nir Klinger, sent midfielder Liran Cohen to the substitute's circle as a pair of fresh legs to replace striker Ofir Haim in attack. Haim apparently had a premonition and asked Klinger to delay the substitution until after a Maccabi corner. The head coach acceded and Haim proceeded to head in the winner. But something even larger occurred that night, for with the exception of the 2010 season, Maccabi Tel Aviv have failed in the past eight years to get past matchweek five of the Israeli Premier League unscathed. And even in that one exceptional season three years ago, Maccabi's matchweek five winner was scored in the fourth minute of injury time, by midfielder Haris Medunjanin. Could this be a curse, or simply an unwelcome coincidence? Or perhaps there's something about the number five in general that gets under Maccabi Tel Aviv's skin. Players and coaches come and go, Klinger himself is now shouting orders from the touchline at Ashdod FC, but the matchweek five results refuse to change.

The first inkling of the "Curse of Matchweek Five" arrived the season following that victory in Ashdod, in the 2006/7 season, with head coach Eli Cohen (nicknamed "the Sheriff") on the Maccabi touchline. Maccabi Tel Aviv's 2-1 defeat to Maccabi Petah Tikva at the "HaUrva" Stadium came just before a run of twenty matches without loss, so how on earth did this one vexing matchweek five failure slip through the net? Just for comparison purposes, Maccabi Tel Aviv's other two encounters with their Petah Tikva namesakes that season ended in easy victories for Tel Aviv. The "curse" continued the following season with a 1-0 loss to newly promoted side Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the two team's first ever league encounter, but after that things only got worse.

In the 2008/9 and 2009/10 seasons, the matchweek five disappointment began to take on larger proportions with losses on goals scored in the dying moments of the matches. In 2008/9 the opponent was Maccabi Netanya, the venue the National Stadium in Ramat Gan due to re-seeding at Bloomfield. Two minutes from time, Netanya defender Biban Fransman took a free kick from 30 metres that glanced off the post of keeper Dragoslav Jevric and into the Tel Aviv net. A year later Maccabi fans at Bloomfield felt sure the "whammy" had been lifted after striker Tsion Tsemach had put Maccabi in front eight minutes from time, but five minutes later Hapoel Acre's Barkai scored an equaliser leaving the two sides to share the points.

In the past two years, what began as a coincidence and later turned into a phenomenon reached new heights and earned the rather unflattering name "the curse". Two years ago Maccabi lost away to Israel Premier League newcomers Ironi Ramat Hasharon, ending a run of four consecutive league victories and twelve points from twelve. Last year history repeated itself, four league wins on the trot, twelve points from twelve, all brought to a halt in a 3-1 away loss to Hapoel Beer Sheva. The fact that in all these seasons these losses stood in stark contrast with how the season proceeded and, even more so, ended, indicates more than anything else that the problem is peculiar to matchweek five and nothing more serious than that. Even in Europe Maccabi lost their fifth group stage match 5-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League in 2004 and 3-2 to Turkish side Besiktas in the Europa League in 2011.

With four consecutive league wins and no goals conceded this season, Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight will have yet another opportunity to break the "curse". And what if this year, once again, will prove no exception? We'll simply have to console ourselves with the fact that in matchweek six, Maccabi Tel Aviv generally win.