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Cornered Hapoel to come out fighting

Eli Gutman insists "it's not the first time we've had our backs against the wall" as his Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC attempt to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit against FK Aktobe and make the play-offs.

Eli Gutman's Hapoel side have proven their worth in tricky situations before
Eli Gutman's Hapoel side have proven their worth in tricky situations before ©Getty Images

Eli Gutman has no misconceptions about the task facing a Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC side who trail FK Aktobe in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie, but expects the Israeli champions' previous dexterity in tight situations to help them overcome their Kazakh counterparts.

Aktobe visit the Bloomfield Stadium 1-0 up after Samat Smakov's second-half winner last week, yet Gutman's team have thrived in adversity before. "It's not the first time we've have our backs against the wall," the 52-year-old said. "We've been in similar situations in the past and dealt with them. We have to remain focused on what happens on the pitch."

Hapoel won the Ligat Ha'Al title on the last day of last season with an added-time goal. They had gone into that fixture trailing Maccabi Haifa FC in the championship and Gutman hopes home advantage can rekindle that fighting spirit. "The result in Kazakhstan obviously doesn't help us, but with the support of our fans we will push right from the start," he said. "They backed us last season on several occasions when we had our backs against the wall and we returned the favour with results on the pitch."

However, the player who scored that last-gasp title clincher three months ago, Eran Zahavi, is unlikely to start following the arrival of Ben Sahar. The 20-year-old Israeli international, who began his playing career at the Reds before spells in England, the Netherlands and Spain, has returned to his homeland searching for game time. He made five league starts for RCD Espanyol last term, being used mainly from the bench, yet should form an exciting attacking partnership with Etey Shechter.

Gutman has warned his charges about adopting a gung-ho approach, saying: "Our aim is to strike a balance between applying pressure and not exposing ourselves at the back." His defence could be missing Dedi Ben Dayan through injury but will include Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who has stuck with the club despite being linked with a succession of teams after impressing at the FIFA World Cup.