Knowing that the fate of the title-race is no longer in Maccabi’s hands and with a four-point-gap from the summit before the match, Patrick van Leeuwen made several changes from the side that beat Petah Tikva 3-0.
With several players one booking short of a one-match-suspension, van Leeuwen made three changes to his defensive line as Andre Geraldes, Enric Saborit and Louis Hernandez lined-up alongside Matan Baltaxa in defense.
Sheran Yeini, who served his one-match-touchline-ban against Petah Tikva, returned to the side together with Eden Karzev as the duo joined Dor Peretz as the midfield trio. Dan Biton, who made a second half substitute appearance and set up Maccabi’s second goal, was named on the wing alongside Tal Ben Chaim. Etey Shechter led the attack aiming to continue his run of three goals from the last two matches.
Maccabi could have enjoyed perfect start in the opening minute as Tal Ben Chaim was sent into the area by Enric Saborit before he was brought down by an Ashdod defender. But Maccabi’s claims for a penalty were waved by referee Yigal Freed. Two minutes later Ben Chaim was brought down on the edge of the area before Dan Biton wasted the chance as he sent the free kick over Roi Mishpati’s crossbar.
Dor Peretz caught Ashdod’s defense napping on 17 as he won the ball deep inside the home side’s half before teeing-up Etey Shechter whose shot crept to the wrong side of the post.
In the 28th minute Andre Geraldes exchanged passes with Sheran Yeini to create the time and space before whipping-in a cross but as the dangerous ball failed to find a Maccabi player it fell to Eden Karzev who couldn’t direct his volley on target.
Zohar Zasano became the first player to go into Freed’s book for a foul on Shechter two minutes after the half hour mark. Biton floated-in the resulting free kick which was headed over by Louis Hernandez.
Ashdod gradually clawed their way back into the game as Shlomi Azulay tried catching Daniel Tenebaum off his line with a long range effort on 41 and Ya’acov Brihon shot wide a minute later. On the stroke of halftime Dean David tested Tenenbaum with a shot from inside the area, but the Brazilian born custodian collected with ease.
With no changes at Maccabi’s line-up, Ashdod’s coach Ran Ben Shimon made a triple change at the restart as Nenad Cvetkovic, Roei Gordana and Oz Bilu replaced Tom Ben Zaken, Shlomi Azulai and Ya’acov Brihon.
Three minutes later, Peretz went down following a tackle by Moussa Bagayoko who was consequently booked by Freed. Karzev was given a chance on 55 as he was released into the area by a clever Peretz flick, but as the midfielder lost his footing Shechter tried a snap shot which was saved by Mishpati. Two minutes later Biton sent a powerful left foot shot that rolled wide of the post. Van Leeuwen made a quadruple substitution in the 58th minute as Shahar Piven replaced Yeini, Eylon Almog came in for Ben Chaim, Matan Hozez replaced Karzev and Nick Blackman stepped-in for Shechter.
Piven almost made an instant mark as he won the ball on the edge of Ashdod’s area in the 65th minute before releasing a shot that turned for a corner by Mishpati. Two minutes later, a Hernandez long throw-in was headed goal-bound by Blackman but once again Mishpati collected.
Maccabi kept increasing the pressure as a Hozez dangerous cross on 72 was punched by Mishpati into the path of Saborit who couldn’t keep down his half volley.
Van Leeuwen made his fifth and final change as Eduardo Guerrero replaced Biton for the final 17 minutes.
Within a minute van Leeuwen’s change paid off as Guerrero put Maccabi in front at the end of a move that began with a Hozez free-kick that rattled the post. Almog pounced on the rebound and teed-up Matan Baltaxa whose shot was initially saved before the Panamanian forward blasted home.
Maccabi doubled their lead in the 88th minute at the end of a lethal counter attack that began with a Gerlades sprint out of defense. The Portuguese full-back released Guerrero who fed Almog before the young winger slotted home Maccabi’s second on the night and his personal second of the season. Maccabi’s celebrations were short-lived as Ashdod got back in the game a minute later with Zakariya Mugis side footing the ball past Tenenbaum from close range to make it 2-1.
News that Maccabi Haifa were leading 1-0 in the closing stages at Kiryat Shmona saw a subdued atmosphere in the Ashdod stadium at full-time. But as soon as the news broke that Haifa conceded an injury-time equalizer and the race for the title remains open – the away section erupted and the celebrations were swiftly echoed from the fans to the players.