Ashdod SC forward Dor Jan.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem enters Sunday night’s showdown with Bnei Yehuda at Teddy Stadium knowing it has little room for error in the Premier League title race.
After picking up 19 of a possible 21 points from its previous seven league games and advancing to the State Cup final, Beitar’s surge came to a grinding halt with last Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat at Hapoel Beersheba.
Jerusalem dropped four points behind Beersheba in first place, and while it still has everything to fight for with eight matches left to play, a failure to return to winning ways against Bnei Yehuda could well prove to be a setback from which Beitar will not be able to recover.
Jerusalem is targeting a seventh straight victory at Teddy that will move it within a point of Beersheba and perhaps put the two-time defending champion under a bit of pressure ahead of its visit to Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday.
“We hoped to beat Beersheba, but we’ve still got eight more matches and 24 points to play for,” said Beitar coach Benny Ben-Zaken. “The title race wouldn’t have been over had we won and we will keep giving our all. In such a tight league everything can still change.”
Bnei Yehuda has little to play for in the remainder of the season, but proved in its impressive 3-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa last Wednesday that it is intent on ending its campaign on a high.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Haifa, which like Maccabi Tel Aviv is eight points behind Beersheba, hosts Maccabi Netanya.
Haifa never seemed likely to challenge for the title until the finish, but it does at least want to make sure it ends the season in the top four and secures its return to European competition after 19 years.
With Haifa to face Beitar in the State Cup final on May 9, a fourth-place finish will likely be good enough to qualify for the Europa League in 2018/19.
Netanya still has an outside chance to reach the top four after beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-1 last week. Netanya, which is still seven points behind Maccabi and Haifa, received permission from UEFA last week to take part in European competition assuming it qualifies, despite initially being ineligible due to its bankruptcy two years ago.
On Saturday, Hapoel Asheklon snapped a 10-match winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Bnei Sakhnin in the relegation playoffs, but nevertheless remained three points from safety after Or Inbrum’s 87th-minute penalty gave Ashdod SC a 2-1 win over Maccabi Haifa.
Ashkelon claimed a first home win in 13 matches thanks to goals from Mirko Oremus (5) and Sa’ar Benbenishti (79). But Messay Dego’s side didn’t receive the news it was hoping for from Ashdod where the hosts took all three points in dramatic fashion.
Nikita Rukavytsya’s penalty (70) had canceled out Dor Jan’s (45) opener for Ashdod, but the hosts still got the win thanks to Inbrum’s spot kick.
The defeat left Maccabi Haifa just seven points from the relegation zone.
It is only a matter of time until rock-bottom Hapoel Acre is officially relegated after it only managed a 1-1 draw against Hapoel Ra’anana. Acre led from Abdi Farakhat (47), with Ben Vahaba (80) equalizing for Ra’anana.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva defeated Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-0 courtesy of goals by Lidor Cohen (5) and Gregory Tade (84).