A pair of second half goals helped Maccabi pull within two points of table leaders Hapoel Beer Sheva as the Yellow-and-Blue defeated Hapoel Haifa 2:1. Captain Eran Zahavi scored a penalty while Tal Ben Chaim wrapped up the three points with a brilliant goal from an Orlando Sa pass in the 80th minute leading the hosts to the win.
Head Coach Peter Bosz made only one change to the starting XI that defeated Maccabi Netanya 3:1 last week as Omri Ben Harush returned to the lineup after serving a one game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Joining Ben Harush in front of keeper Predrag Rajikovic was Eli Dasa, Eitan Tibi and Carlos Garcia. The midfield featured Gal Alberman, Nosa Igiebor and Haris Medunjanin while an attacking trio of Dor Micha, Eden Ben Basat and Captain Eran Zahavi played up front.
After close to 38 minutes of ho-hum football with neither side taking the bull by the horns and creating scoring chances Medunjanin finally fired the opening shot in the 38th minute. The Bosnian’s 25 meter scorcher was saved at the last moment by recently acquired Haifa keeper Marian Antolovich as the Yellow-and-Blue picked up the pace.
Four minutes later Medunjanin’s free kick from the right side was swatted away again by the opposing keeper directly to Zahavi’s feet but his effort went over the bar. Maccabi would have one more chance to go into the break with a lead however, Garcia’s header was off the mark as the two sides went into the half goalless.
The Yellow-and-Blue continued to look for their first goal of the match and in the 47th minute they almost found it when a Ben Harush 17-meter effort from the left side of the box just whistled by the right post. As the clock hit the 59th minute, Ben Basat’s half bicycle kick attempt went over the bar prompting coach Bosz to make all three of his substitutions over the next few minutes. Winger Tal Ben Chaim, Orlando Sa and Avi Rikan were all introduced to jump start the offense in place of Ben Basat, a limping Ben Harush and Alberman.
As they say, the changes were just what the doctor ordered. Zahavi was tripped up in the box by Tadas Kianskas sending the Maccabi captain to the penalty spot where he promptly beat Antolovich to give the hosts a 1:0 lead in the 71st minute. Sensing a second goal was in the air, Igiebor’s effort and Ben Chaim’s chances were brilliantly saved by Antolovich, while Medunjanin’s corner was also batted away by the Haifa shot stopper.
But Antolovich wouldn’t be able to stop a great combo play by two of the substitutes in the 80th minute. Ben Chaim took a perfect pass from Sa on the left side as the winger beat the Haifa keeper with his right foot from a very sharp angle to double the Yellow-and-Blue lead. Zarko Korac brought Haifa to within one in the 89th minute but it was too little, too late as Maccabi wrapped up the victory to pull within a pair of points of Hapoel Beer Sheva at the top of the table.