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Jan, 29, 2006

Maccabi Haifa suffer first league defeat of season

JERUSALEM, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Hapoel Petah Tikva inflicted a first loss of the season on runaway leaders Maccabi Haifa when they beat them 3-1 in the Premier League on Saturday.

The loss ended Haifa's hopes of repeating their unbeaten 1993-94 season when they cruised to the title with 28 wins and 11 draws. They have also dropped points in two away draws this season against Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Tel Aviv.

However, despite the defeat and with more than half the season completed Haifa, who lead the standings with 50 points, are still set to win a fifth title in six seasons as they have a 15-point advantage over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Mid-table Petah Tikva did not appear to pose a threat to visiting Haifa and were 1-0 down at halftime after a 10th minute Gustavo Bocoli goal. Haifa's strikers continued to attack and narrowly missed the target on several other occasions.

Petah Tikva needed more than 30 minutes of the second half before goals by Yossi Shivkhon (62), Toto Tamuz (68) and an 81st minute penalty from Manor Hassan sank Haifa.

'This victory comes thanks to all 14 players who took the field tonight,' victorious coach Nir Levin said after the match.

'I cannot deny that we were very apprehensive at what Haifa might do to us but at the same time, we had a belief that we might be able to do something.'

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