Published on : 01/02/2018
By : Arista Asmawati
Yellow-and-blue closes back to within four points of first place thanks to Kjartansson penalty.
Maccabi Tel Aviv moved back to within four points of the Premier League summit on Monday night, equaling its longest winning streak of the campaign by beating Bnei Sakhnin 1-0 at Acre for its third straight victory.
Vidar Orn Kjartansson scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot in the 56th minute, giving Maccabi the three points despite a mediocre performance.
After falling seven points behind first place following three consecutive draws, the yellow-and-blue is finally managing to string together wins over recent weeks, adding the victory against Sakhnin to the ones over Beitar Jerusalem and Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which came on the back of the Toto Cup triumph over Hapoel Beersheba.
Maccabi’s win means the top four teams in the standings are once more only separated by four points, with Hapoel Beersheba, Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jersualem also all winning by a 1-0 score-line over the weekend.
Beersheba needed a 92nd-minute goal from Czech striker Tomas Pekhart to defeat Hapoel Ashkelon 1-0 on Sunday and move to 36 points. Hapoel Haifa has 35 points, with Beitar two more points further back.
Maccabi, which was playing for the first time since the appointment of its former defender Carlos Garcia as Jordi Cruyff’s new assistant coach, completely dominated the first half. The yellow-and-blue had over 70 percent of the possession and registered 11 shots towards goal to Sakhnin’s one. However, it couldn’t break down its opponent’s defense until it received a helping hand from referee Gal Leibowitz.
Sakhnin defender Wanderson made slight contact with Nick Blackman in the box and the Maccabi striker quickly fell to the ground.
Kjartansson stepped up to take the spot kick and held his head in frustration after goalkeeper Mahmmoud Kanadil saved his penalty.
However, Leibowitz spotted Kanadil moving off his line before Kjartansson took his shot and ordered the penalty to be retaken.
Kjartansson sent the ‘keeper the wrong way with his second attempt, rolling the ball into the bottom left corner.
Maccabi sat back after taking the lead, which invited Sakhnin pressure, and the hosts weren’t far from leveling the score. Shlomi Azulay squandered a golden opportunity in the 69th minute, sending a weak effort straight at Predrag Rajkovic with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The Serbian also came to his team’s rescue six minutes from time, denying an Ataa Jaber header to maintain a clean sheet and secure the three points.
“We knew we had to win being seven points behind before the game,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “In the first half we controlled the game. Second half was a little more difficult. We scored the goal and then lost a bit of control.
I do expect us to go for the second goal after taking the lead but we have struggled at that this season. We seem to like to suffer until the end.”
Premier League action resumes next Monday, with the highlight of the day being Beitar’s visit to Hapoel Haifa. Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Maccabi Netanya on Tuesday, with Beersheba hosting Bnei Yehuda.
The top flight teams will be in action beforehand when they begin their State Cup campaigns starting from Thursday.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be in action in the State Cup round of 32 on Saturday when it hosts the amateur players of Bnei M.M.B.E. HaGolan VeHaGalil, which became the first senior team from the Druze towns in the Golan Heights to join the Israeli football league system in 2015. MMBE, which plays in local soccer’s fourth division (Liga Bet), is initials for the four towns the club represents: Mas’ade, Majdal Shams, Buq’ata and Ein Qiniyye.
Also Saturday, Beersheba, which hasn’t won the cup since 1997, visits Ahi Nazareth of the National League. Beitar Jerusalem goes to Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the second division on Thursday.