Three days after booking their place at the State Cup Final following the victory over Maccabi Haifa at Sammy Ofer, Maccabi Tel Aviv arrived at the Petah Tikva Stadium aiming to keep the race for the championship alive.
Trailing the leaders by four points in the table and with three matches left until the end of the Playoff, only a victory could keep Maccabi’s hopes of retaining the league title. Boosted by the arrival of the foreign players who returned to Israel over the weekend, Maccabi’s coach Patrick van Leeuwen named Enric Saborit, Andre Geraldes and Louis Hernandez on the substitutes bench.
Van Leeuwen kept the same defensive line that beat Haifa as Eytan Tibi, Matan Baltaxa, Shahar Piven and Ofir Davidzada as the back-four in front of Daniel Tenenabum. With Sheran Yeini serving a one-match touchline ban, Eden Karzev stepped into the midfield alongside Dan Glazer and Dor Peretz.
Tal Ben Chaim who recovered from the injury that kept him against Maccabi Haifa, returned to the side and was named as one of the two wingers together with Eduardo Guerrero. Etey Shechter whose brace against Haifa led Maccabi to the Cup Final, kept his place upfront as he led the attack from the striker’s role.
Dan Biton, Eylon Almog, Dor Turgeman, Niv Berkovitz and Or Roizman all joined Saborit, Geraldes and Hernandez waiting for their chance to make an impact from the bench.
Maccabi didn’t wait long to launch the first attempt on goal as 45 seconds from the start Tal Ben Chaim found Eduardo Guerrero whose shot flew high over the crossbar. Six minutes later, a Guerrero cross sailed across the face of goal but couldn’t find a Maccabi player in the penalty area.
Guy Hadida dispossessed Guerrero deep inside Maccabi’s half but the Petah Tikva captain’s shot from the edge of the area, cleared Daniel Tenenbaum’s crossbar.
Dor Peretz, Guerrero and Ofir Davidzada were all booked by referee Gal Leibovic as the aggressive match from both sides claimed their toll. In the 35th minute, Peretz carved Petah Tikva’s defense open as he released Ben Chaim into the area, but the attempt of a shot by the Maccabi winger was blocked by Or Balorian.
Bar Arad ghosted into the Maccabi area to pick Morgan Ferrier’s cross on 41 before Matan Baltaxa slid-in with a last gasp tackle to clear the danger before Tenenbaum was required to make a save.
With no goals in the first half and no changes at halftime, both teams emerged out of their dressing rooms knowing that only a better performance could change the score sheet.
A Ben Chaim counter attack three minutes after the restart resulted with a left foot shot that went high and wide.
Two minute after the hour mark as Van Leeuwen was preparing to make a double change, Maccabi took the lead through Guerrero. Peretz carved Petah Tikva’s defense open to release the Panamanian forward who kept his calm and sent a delicate chip over the advancing Arik Yanko to break the deadlock.
Regardless, of the lead, Dan Biton and Eylon Almog replaced Karzev and Ben Chaim in the 63rd minute. The goal lifted Maccabi’s players and with the support of 3000 traveling fans the blitz continued. In the 69th minute Biton’s pinpoint through-ball found Shechter whose powerful drive went in off the crossbar to double the score. Andre Geraldes replaced Shechter who was stretchered off with a knock on 72.
Biton and Almog were both instrumental in Maccabi’s third on 78 as the young winger skipped past a defender and had his initial shot blocked by Yanko into the path of Guerrero before Peretz drove home the rebound from close range.
Young Or Roizman and Dor Turgeman were given a chance to make their senior league debut as they replaced Shahar Piven and Guerrero for the final five minutes. Biton came close to increase the lead even further on 89 as his left foot drive rattled the base of the post and repeated the feat shooting agonisingly wide seconds later.
The full time whistle sent Maccabi’s players to celebrate the 3-0 win with the fans, knowing that on Wednesday they have a tough trip to Ashdod that lost 2-0 to Haifa.