Maccabi Tel Aviv arrived at the final league match of the season knowing that only a victory against Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield together with a Maccabi Haifa slip-up at home against Hapoel Be’ersheva could leave them a chance of retaining the championship.
With 74 points from a possible 35 matches, Maccabi entered the final league round trailing the league leaders by two points in the table. Four days after the 2-1 victory away to Ashdod in the league and three days before the State Cup Final against Hapoel Tel Aviv – Maccabi’s coach Patrick van Leeuwen made five changes to his side.
Daniel Tenenbaum who didn’t miss a single minute during the entire season, made his 55th start in all competitions as the 26-year-old Brazilian born custodian started in goal. Eytan Tibi stepped in for Matan Baltaxa as the defensive partner of Louis Hernandez while Andre Geraldes and Enric Saborit completed the back four on the right and left respectively. Dan Glazer returned to the heart of midfield for the suspended Dor Peretz with Sheran Yeini taking up the second anchorman role allowing Dan Biton to push slightly forward. Upfront Van Leeuwen made three changes as Matan Hozez, Eduardo Gurrero and Nick Blackman who all made substitute appearances at Ashdod, were given a chance to start the match.
Etey Shechter and Tal Ben Chaim dropped to the bench waiting to make their mark together with Baltaxa, Eden Karzev, Eylon Almog, Ofir Davidzada, Shahar Piven and Yonatan Cohen.
Boosted by the support of 20,412 fans at Bloomfield, Maccabi began the match on the front foot in a bid to score an early goal. Five minutes after the start a counter attack down the right channel saw Andre Geraldes and Eduardo Guerrero exchange passes before the Portuguese full-back sent a dangerous cross that was collected by Dziugas Bartkus.
In the 10th minute Nick Blackman quickly turned to create himself some space but his long range effort didn’t trouble the Kiryat Shmona keeper. Dan Biton sent Matan Hozez with a through ball that was cleared by Kiryat Shmona’s defense for a corner that Guerrero headed goal-bound only to force Bartkus to stretch himself and save.
Hozez was sent into the area once again on 15, this time by Dan Glazer, only to see a last gasp tackle by a Kiryat Shmona defender block the shot for a corner. Three minutes later however, Biton broke the deadlock in spectacular style as the diminutive winger unleashed a powerful long range left foot shot that rocketed past Bartkus and set Bloomfield stadium alight.
Maccani were given a golden chance to double the score in the 24th minute as a Guerrero’s cut-back found Biton who teed-up Hozez only to see the pacey forward fail to connect. A minute after the half hour mark Daniel Tenenbaum was called into the action as Eugene Ansah’s powerful shot rattled his post.
Biton, grabbed his second and doubled Maccabi’s lead on 39 at the end of a brilliant move he began by dribbling into the box, exchanging of passes with Guerrero before squeezing the ball under Bartkus.
Kiryat Shmona made a change after the break as Guy Ben Lulu was replaced by Michael Amanga who received a standing ovation from the Maccabi fans for the goal he scored against Haifa last week.
The visitors cut the deficit on 53 as Lucio exploited a mistake in Maccabi’s defense before sending a powerful left foot shot into the top corner giving Tenenbaum no chance.
Van Leeuwen made a triple change as Shahar Piven, Ofir Davidzada and Eylon Almog replaced Sheran Yeini, Enric Saborit and Matan Hozez shortly before the hour mark.
In the 72nd minute Maccabi came close to increase their lead as Almog’s trickery saw him beat a defender before teeing-up Piven who flashed his shot wide. Yonatan Cohen replaced the tired Guerrero on 74 as the forward who recently recovered from an injury was given 16 minutes to get precious playing minutes.
Maccabi totally dominated the play as Biton and Almog toyed with the visitors’ defense only to see Cohen blast his shot high and wide on 79. Four minutes later, Blackman was sent clear and had his initial shot saved by Bartkus before Cohen’s attempt to reach the rebound was blocked.
In the 87th minute Eden Karzev became the fifth substitute on the night as the he replaced Dan Glazer who played with a bleeding cut above his eye from the first half.
When it seemed as though the victory was only seconds away, yet the fans who knew it wasn’t enough to win the league were singing ahead of Wednesday’s Cup Final – Kiryat Shmona grabbed their equalizer.
Ori Dahan rose high to head a corner across the face of Maccabi’s goal and into the path of Ansah who silenced Bloomfield with a close range equalizer that settled the score at 2-2.
Liran Liani’s full-time whistle saw the Maccabi players walk around the ground thanking the fans for their support and receive gratitude for their efforts throughout the season. On Wednesday, the same scenes could be emulated yet with a different ending as Bloomfield stadium will stage the State Cup Final.