Four days after PSV Eindhoven ended their successful Conference League campaign in the Round of 32 stage, Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to focus the attention on domestic competitions as Mladen Krstajic and his charges arrived at Green stadium for the league match against Hapoel Nof Hagalil.
The newly promoted side that is currently fighting to avoid relegation, salvaged a 1-1 draw from their visit to Bloomfield earlier this season. A draw is the most common result in the seven previous league matches between Maccabi and Nof Hagalil under the previous name as Nazareth Ilit of which Maccabi had won only once in the 2004/05 season.
Injuries to Josue Sa, Andre Geraldes, Shahar Piven and the latest casualty, Idan Nachmias, once again forced Mladen Krstajic to make changes to his side. Sheran Yeini captained the side as one of two central defenders in front of goalkeeper Daniel Peretz. Enric Saborit who scored the late equaliser against PSV on Thursday, partnered Yeini at the heart of defence with Ofir Davidzada on the left and Maor Kandil completing the back-four at right-back. Dan Glazer kept his place as the midfield anchor-man with Eyal Golasa and Gabi Kanichowsky in support while Dan Biton was pushed slightly forward in a four-man midfield. Upfront, the Serbian coach sent his Balkan-duo Djordje Jovanovic and Stipe Perica in a bid to score against the league’s worst defence that conceded 40 goals so far.
A power failure at the Green stadium during the warm-up and shortly before kick-off was a cause of entertainment for both the home and travelling fans. But, after several minutes of darkness and with the problem solved, any fears of the match being delayed or postponed faded in the cold Galilee wintery weather.
Ten minutes after the game kicked off Maccabi threatened to draw first blood as a Dan Biton shot deflected off a defender before it was pushed out for a corner by Stefan Marinovic. Five minutes later the New Zealand International keeper was at the centre of Maccabi’s opener as Gabi Kanichowsky charged through the middle and took the ball past the advancing keeper who brought him down. Before referee Gal Leibovic could have a chance to award a penalty or consider whether to send off Marinovic, Djordje Jovanovic pounced first and slid the ball into the open goal. Maccabi continued to press as Dan Glazer, Eyal Golasa and Kanichowsky dominated the midfield while Biton, Stipe Perica and Jovanovic kept tormenting Nof Hagalil’s defence. Seven minutes after breaking the deadlock, Maccabi doubled their lead on 25 as Biton whipped in a pinpoint cross into the path of Jovanovic who volleyed home past Marinovic for his second on the night.
A Kanichowsky counter attack in the 34th minute reached Jovanovic whose cut-back was parried by Marinovic only for Biton to blast the rebound high over the crossbar and even the tribune. Two minutes later, Nof Hagalil managed to cut the deficit as Waheb Habiballah exploited Maccabi’s disorganized defence to end a counter attack with a header that beat Daniel Peretz.
Maccabi restored their two-goal lead in the 44th minute as Golasa found Biton on the edge of the Nof Hagalil before the diminutive midfielder turned from provider to scorer as he fired a low shot that beat Marinovic to make it 3-1. Shortly before the break, Kanichowsky could have added his name to the score sheet but his attempt sailed high over the target as the halftime whistle sent Maccabi to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead.
With no changes after the break, Maccabi began the second half where they left off as a Golasa shot on 54 saw Marinovic collect. At the opposite end, Peretz, was also forced to deny David Tweh as Nof Hagalil featuring Maccabi’s on-loan midfielder Bar Cohen, continued to cause a threat. Right on the hour mark, Biton and Golasa exchanged passes to break past the hosts’ defence and into the area. But despite some fancy tricks and flicks Nof Hagalil managed to clear the ball from the goalmouth. A minute later Krstajic made his first two changes as Perica and Kanichowsky bowed-out and were replaced by Tal Ben Chaim and Eden Shamir. Two minutes after his introduction, Shamir stopped a Nof Hagalil counter-attack near the centre circle and was consequently booked.
Krstajic made another double substitution in the 70th minute as Brandley Kuwas and Avi Rikan came in for Golasa and Biton. Three minutes later Peretz stretched himself to keep-out a shot by Nof Hagalil’s substitute Stav Nachmani. Matan Baltaxa replaced Maor Kandil on 75 as Krstajic made his fifth and final change with Sheran Yeini switching from the centre to right-back.
Peretz was saved by the crossbar on 84 as a Nof Hagalil free kick was headed by Ronen Hanzis from point blank range onto the woodwork before the danger was cleared.
In the 88th minute Marinovic came to the rescue as the Nof Hagalil keeper pulled a reflex save to catch Shamir’s close-range volley following a Kuwas corner. A minute later, Kuwas teed-up Glazer on the edge of the area but the combative midfielder who scored this season only in a European qualifier shot high over the bar forcing him to wait for his league goal to a later date.
The fifth victory in succession and 14th of the season took Maccabi to 47 points, two adrift of second place Hapoel Be’ersheva. Maccabi will now turn attention to the State Cup as they face Maccabi Jaffa on Thursday for the return leg of the Quarter Final.