Three days after beating Maccabi Netanya 2-1 in a radius match, Maccabi returned to Sammy Ofer stadium for the match against runaway leaders Maccabi Haifa. Maccabi’s coach Mladen Krstajic whose side are third with 62 points, four adrift of second place Hapoel Be’ersheva, made five changes from the team that beat Netanya on Saturday.

Idan Nachmias stepped-in for the injured Josue Sa as the second central defender alongside Enric Saborit with Andre Geraldes and Matan Baltaxa completing the back-four at right and left back respectively. With Dan Glazer serving his one-match touchline ban, Eden Shamir returned to the heart of midfield to face the side he scored a wonder goal against during the 3-2 defeat earlier this season. Eyal Golasa as a stand-in captain led the team out with Gabi Kanichowsky completing the midfield trio.

Eylon Almog’s performance against Netanya saw him keep his place on the wing with Brandley Kuwas on the opposite flank. Stipe Perica lead the line in a bid to add to his 13 league goals while Djordje Jovanovic was named by Krstajic amongst the substitutes on the bench together with Daniel Tenenbaum, Matan Hozez, Osama Khalaila, Avi Rikan, Ofir Davidzada, Shahar Piven, Orel Baye, and Oscar Gloukh.

First Half

The match began at frantic pace as the rivalry between the two clubs was evident on the pitch right from the off. Haifa came close to draw first blood as referee Idan Leiba ignored a clear foul on Matan Baltaxa in the 8th minute and allowed Haifa to go on a counter attack. Din David charged forward and with only Daniel Peretz to beat the Haifa striker was stopped by the advancing keeper. In the 12th minute at the opposite end, Maccabi came close as an Andre Geraldes cross from the right found Gabi Kanichowsky unmarked at the far post but the diminutive midfielder sent a left foot volley wide of the post. Haifa’s captain, Neta Lavie, was booked by Leiba in the 15th minute after a foul on his Maccabi counterpart Eyal Golasa. Two minutes later David had another chance as he ran through the middle but his effort struck the side netting.

Haifa had the ball in the back of the net on 22 but the goal was disallowed for offside. A minute later the deadlock was finally broken as Eylon Almog skipped past Bogdan Planjic down the left flank before sending a pinpoint cross towards Stipe Perica. The tall Croatian striker who was left unmarked in the middle of the penalty box, headed home to beat Roei Mashpati and give Maccabi a 1-0 lead.

David almost equalised in the 26th minute as Dolev Haziza ghosted beyond Maccabi’s defence and turned a cross that was headed towards goal. But Peretz pulled a stunning reflex save to keep out the close range header before being saved by the crossbar a minute later following Haziza’s powerful strike.

In the 44th minute, Idan Nachmias was cautioned by Leiba for a foul on Omer Atzili before the resulting free kick was cleared and the first half ended.

Second Half

While Krstajic made no changes after the interval, his Haifa counterpart, Barak Bachar, shuffled his side as he introduced Mickael Alphonse for Lavie at the restart. In the 50th minute Maccabi celebrated a second goal as Perica slotted home a Kanichowsky square ball, but the celebrations were short-lived as VAR decided to rule the goal out for an alleged foul in the build-up move.

Two minutes after the hour mark Haifa were back on level terms as Peretz saved with his feet from Mahmoud Jabber. With the defence struggling to clear the danger, Tjaronn Cherry found the bottom corner with a low drive from the edge of the area to level the score. Krstajic reacted with a double substitution as Oscar Gloukh replaced Almog while Djordje Jovanovic came-in for Perica.

Krstajic made another change as Avi Rikan replaced the tired Shamir in the 74th minute. Two minutes later Rikan forced Mashpati to stretch himself and save before Jovanovic won a corner which was cleared.

In the 83rd minute Maccabi were awarded a penalty thanks to the intervention of VAR after Alphonse brought down Saborit inside the area. Jovanovic stepped up and successfully blasted the spot kick past Mashpati to restore Maccabi’s lead to make it 2-1. Krstajic made another double change on 88 as Shahar Piven came in for Kanichowsky while Orel Baye was handed his senior league debut replacing Kuwas.

Inside injury time, Baye made his mark on the game as his pressure on Haifa’s Ali Mohamed won Maccabi the ball on the halfway line. All three substitutes combined as Gloukh ended the move of his fellow youth teammate by firing in Rikan’s square ball to score Maccabi’s third and his third league goal of the season.

Be’ersheva’s 2-1 defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv saw Haifa celebrate the league title despite being beaten humiliated on home soil. Maccabi on the other hand, moved within a point from Be’ersheva less than a week before both teams meet at Bloomfield.