Second half goals by Eran Zahavi and Tal Ben Haim looked to have earned a point for the visitors, but a last minute drama saw Maccabi lose their first match of the season
Rarely, if ever, have the words of the legendary American baseball player Yogi Berra been so prescient: "It ain't over till it's over". Last night, five months after celebrating their season 2013/14 championship match at the very same venue, Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to the southernmost point of the Israeli Premier League, Hapoel Beer Sheva's Wassermill Stadium, with a view to maintaining their three-match perfect league record so far. And despite going behind from an early goal by striker Elyaniv Barda, Maccabi put on a masterful display and dominated every aspect of play on the pitch, equalising early in the second half through a penalty drawn, and converted, by midfielder Eran Zahavi. With just five minutes of regulation play remaining, it looked like despite Maccabi's superiority the teams were on their way to sharing the points. But a topsy-turvy finish saw Barda once again put his side ahead (85'), Maccabi's Tal Ben Haim restore parity (87') and Barda complete his hat-trick (88'), and much like last year Maccabi Tel Aviv were handed their first league loss of the season 3-2 in Beer Sheva.
It was an inauspicious start for the champions when, after only three minutes, Hapoel Beer Sheva's Elyaniv Barda was passed through onside behind the Maccabi defence at midfield and raced all the way to strike past Maccabi keeper Juan Carlos to put his side ahead 1-0. But rather than succumb to this early setback, Maccabi proceeded to take the match back to their opponents' half and put Beer Sheva's Nigerian keeper Austin Ejide under constant pressure. Just four minutes after Barda's goal, Maccabi veteran midfielder Gal Alberman hit the woodwork and young midfielder Dor Micha sliced the rebound into the net, unfortunately from an offside position. Next up was summer signing Eden Ben Bassat with two separate efforts that narrowly missed the target and ten minutes from the break midfielder Eran Zahavi saw an excellent shot saved by Ejide. Closest though came Serbian midfielder Nikola Mitrovic, whose superb long-range effort narrowly glanced off the post.
After the break Maccabi continued to press and once again Eran Zahavi saw an effort saved and Gal Alberman shot just beyond the post. Then, ten minutes after the restart, the opening Maccabi had waited for, and deserved, finally appeared when the same Zahavi was brought down in the area and stepped up to convert his own penalty to bring the sides level at 1-1. It was only after that that the home side came to life again, with midfielder Maor Buzaglo drawing an important save from Juan Carlos only moments later, while at the other end striker Eden Ben Bassat once again tested keeper Ejide. Thereafter the pace of the game diminished somewhat and along with it the goalscoring opportunities. But just as the match seemed to be cruising to a draw, a last minute drama unfolded as five minutes from time first Barda restored Beer Sheva's lead, followed in close order by winger Tal Ben Haim's equaliser, slamming in from close range Ejide's deflection of a Dor Micha effort. At 2-2 with just three minutes on the clock a draw once again seemed the likely outcome, but a minute later Elyaniv Barda leapt high in the Maccabi area to head in past Juan Pablo and finalise Beer Sheva's 3-2 victory.