Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda (left) celebrates with teammate Anthony Nwakaeme after scoring his team’s opener in a 2-0 win over Hapoel Ra’anana at Turner Stadium.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba’s 40-year wait for a Premier League championship could finally come to an end on Saturday night after it extended its lead at the top of the standings to five points on Monday, beating Beitar Jerusalem 2-0 at Turner Stadium while Maccabi Tel Aviv could only manage a 1-1 draw against Hapoel Ra’anana in Netanya.
Beersheba visits Maccabi Haifa at Haifa Stadium on Saturday and can clinch the league title with a win regardless of the yellow- and-blue’s result at Beitar Jerusalem.
Beersheba needs just two points from its final two games, against Haifa and at home versus Bnei Sakhnin, to secure the championship even should Maccabi beat both Beitar and Maccabi Haifa.
Beersheba had to wait 77 minutes for the breakthrough on Monday.
Captain Elyaniv Barda came off the bench to break the deadlock before Ovidiu Hoban secured the victory with a stunning strike from the edge of the box six minutes later.
Tel Aviv had taken the lead against Ra’anana through Nosa Igiebor in the 59th minute, with Beersheba still being held by Beitar at that stage. However, instead of cutting the gap to a single point, Maccabi ended the night five points back of the summit, with Barak Badash equalizing four minutes later for Ra’anana before Barda and Hoben gave Beersheba its victory.
Beersheba struggled to create scoring opportunities against Beitar despite dominating the possession. Youngster Stav Shushan started in Jerusalem’s goal in the absence of the suspended Boris Kleyman, but he was rarely tested and stood up to the challenge when he was.
Anthony Nwakaeme was Beersheba’s most dangerous player, but he should have done better from the center of the box in the 76th minute, shooting wide with time and space. It would quickly be forgotten though, with Barda scoring two minutes later and Hoban sending Beersheba fans into delirium seven minutes from time.
“We took a significant step but there are still two more matches to play,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar, whose team extended its unbeaten run to 29 matches, the longest undefeated run in European soccer.
“Stranger things have happened in soccer and we need to complete the job.”
Maccabi’s Eran Zahavi failed to find the back of the net in three matches since taking his tally for the season to a record 31 goals last month, breaking Nissim Elmalich’s record from the 1954/55 campaign, and he didn’t look his usual clinical self once more on Monday.
Ra’anana goalkeeper Arik Yanko was responsible for extending Zahavi’s barren spell in the 15th minute, but the Maccabi midfielder only had himself to blame for fluffing his volley from the center of the box three minutes later and firing wide in the 25th minute.
Maccabi finally scored its first goal since Zahavi’s winning stoppage-time strike against Beitar Jerusalem on April 11 when Igiebor headed in the opener in the 59th minute.
The Nigerian midfielder had been out injured since February 27, but found the back of the net a mere two minutes after coming on as a substitute.
However, the yellow-and-blue’s lead would last just four minutes.
Former Maccabi striker Barak Badash came back to haunt his former team, firing in the equalizer from the center of the box after entering the match at the break.