After missing the start of the season through injury, Maccabi Haifa striker Eliran Atar has returned to the team’s starting lineup in its past four Premier League matches, scoring four goals. .
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Haifa can move within three points of the Premier League summit when it visits Ashdod SC on Saturday night, but in order to do so and become a serious title challenger it will need to start winning matches on the road.
The Greens have picked up 13 of a possible 15 points at Haifa Stadium, winning four matches and drawing one by a combined goal difference of 10-1.
However, they have triumphed in just one of five games away from home, doing so against Maccabi Tel Aviv of all teams.
Nevertheless, Haifa enters the weekend in third place, one point behind Maccabi Tel Aviv in second place and six points back of leader Hapoel Beersheba.
Beersheba and Tel Aviv don’t play until Sunday, with the reigning champion visiting Hapoel Kfar Saba and the yellow-and-blue going to Bnei Yehuda.
Haifa has so far lost just one match this season, going unbeaten in its last eight contests while maintaining a clean sheet in its past five games.
After failing to win in its first eight matches, Ashdod has registered two straight victories to climb out of the relegation zone and Haifa coach Rene Meulensteen is wary of the threat they pose to his team.
“Ashdod is going to be another test for us,” the Dutchman said on Thursday. “It is going to be a difficult game.
After a difficult start they have changed things around and haven’t been beaten in the last five games. For us it is going to be a big test, but we are in a good position ourselves.
We can draw confidence from our last game against Kfar Saba and we go to Ashdod in good spirits.”
Haifa has conceded just five goals so far this season, tied with Beersheba for the best defensive record in the league.
“When I came here I spoke about how important it is to build a base, to build a foundation and in football that is clean sheets,” explained Meulensteen.
“So we addressed that from the beginning and have worked hard on it.”
Also Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv players will try and ignore all the off-field distractions and get back to winning ways when they visit Hapoel Ra’anana. Tel Aviv is in danger of going into administration due to its deteriorating financial situation, with owner Amir Kabiri failing to right the ship. Hapoel is just one place and three points above the relegation zone, going winless in its past three games.
In other action, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ashkelon visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem welcomes Bnei Sakhnin at Teddy Stadium.