Maccabi share the points after being held to a goalless draw at Kiryat Shmona in matchday 3 of the top-six playoffs

On an unusually cold early spring night at the northernmost outpost of Israeli Premier League football, league leaders Maccabi Tel Aviv were hosted  by third-placed Ironi Kiryat Shmona in both sides' third top-six playoff encounter. Maccabi came into the match after two commanding home performances, persuasive victories over Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva that helped them stretch their lead at the top of the table to eight points. Tonight, however, in the frosty northern air and facing a determined Kiryat Shmona defence, Maccabi seemed at times a mere shadow of their earlier selves and failed to score in a low-key affair that ended with the two sides sharing the points of a 0-0 draw. Despite a number of good scoring opportunities, especially by Eran Zahavi and especially in the first half, Maccabi struggled to build momentum and outwit a well-organised Kiryat Shmona defensive line and will return to Tel Aviv perhaps regretting the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to ten points after second-placed Hapoel Beer Sheva yesterday also drew their latest encounter at home against Maccabi Haifa.

Ben Basat

The match opened with neither side showing dominance and it was only in the 17th minute that the first real threat on goal appeared. Maccabi's Nigerian midfielder Nosa Igiebor squeezed a clever pass through to Eden Ben Basat running in on goal ahead of the Kiryat Shmona defence but after rounding the keeper the striker was only able to catch the side netting from an admittedly difficult angle. Three minutes later at the other end Kiryat Shmona had what amounted to their best scoring chance of the night when ex-Maccabi midfielder Ro'i Kahat received a handsome cross in the area with just Juan Pablo to beat, but the Maccabi keeper saved well with an outstretched arm to keep his side from falling behind. Five minutes after that it was Maccabi midfielder Eran Zahavi's turn to come close after receiving the ball from Igiebor and a neat exchange of passes with Ben Basat on the edge of the area, but his arched effort sailed just past the upper left-hand corner of the goal. Thereafter Maccabi took better hold of the match but it was Kiryat Shmona's Shimon Abuhazira that looked most like scoring on the stroke of half time, and only a timely exit from Juan Pablo saved the striker's shot from inside the area.


The second half opened much the same as the first half ended, with Maccabi having the edge on possession but neither side creating much excitement in front of goal. On 54 minutes Kiryat Shmona midfielder Adrian Rochet struck from outside the area but his effort sailed over. Dor Micha's effort suffered a similar fate at the other end. Maccabi head coach Pako Ayestaran made successive attacking substitutions – first winger Tal Ben Haim, then Swedish striker Rade Prica and finally veteran striker Barak Itzhaki – but all to no avail.  Maccabi's best chance of the second half fell once again to Eran Zahavi, who on 73 minutes was fed a smart pass by Rade Prica and tried unsuccessfully to catch Kiryat Shmona and ex-Maccabi keeper Guy Haimov off his line with a chip that sputtered wide. After a skilful personal effort, Ben Chaim saw his close-range shot two minutes later cleared at the goalmouth by Kiryat Shmona captain Shir Tzedek. Towards the end of the encounter Kiryat Shmona, too, showed some signs of life but in the end it finished goalless and both sides will take a point from a somewhat below-par display.

Next Sunday Maccabi will return to the warmer embrace of Bloomfield Stadium and attempt to reignite their title campaign at home against Beitar Jerusalem.