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Hapoel knows it must pick up the pace to contend
By ALLON SINAI
12/14/2012
There has rarely been a dull moment at Hapoel Tel Aviv this season.
 
There has rarely been a dull moment at Hapoel Tel Aviv this season.

Despite experiencing a tumultuous off-season in which the club was eventually purchased by former member of Knesset Haim Ramon, Hapoel entered the campaign with what is on paper one of the strongest squads in the league.

However, the club was rocked yet again in September when coach Nitzan Shirazi was forced to take a leave of absence after falling seriously ill, with Israel assistant coach Yossi Abuksis eventually taking his place.

The Reds have seldom impressed in the Premier League since and didn’t even come close to challenging for a place in the Europa League round-of-32, finishing last in Group B.

Nevertheless, Hapoel enters Saturday’s match against Hapoel Ramat Gan at Bloomfield Stadium trailing league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv only on goal difference.

Five of Hapoel’s nine wins have come by a single goal, including four 1-0 victories, with Abuksis’s men eking out three points with mediocre performances time and again.

However, Abuksis knows that his side won’t be able to do so for much longer and will require a significant improvement to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Hapoel’s poor play cost it dearly on Monday, with Hapoel Acre holding the Reds to a goalless deadlock at Bloomfield, snapping their four-game winning streak.

But with attacking options of the likes of Toto Tamuz, Omer Damari, Tal Ben- Haim and Gili Vermut, a midfield which includes Eric Djemba Djemba and one of the season’s breakthrough players in Hanan Maman, as well as arguably the league’s best goalkeeper in Apoula Edel, Hapoel clearly has massive promise.

The fact it is only kept off the top of the standings by two goals despite its struggles is promising news for Hapoel, assuming it shows some real progress soon, preferably starting with Saturday’s game against Ramat Gan.

Hapoel will climb to first place for at least 48 hours should it avoid defeat at Bloomfield, with Maccabi Tel Aviv not visiting Maccabi Haifa until Monday.

Ashdod SC enters the weekend just three points behind the top two after defeating Hapoel Acre 2-0 on Wednesday from two Nir Biton goals in a match which was postponed due to Operation Pillar of Defense.

Ashdod will hope to remain within striking distance of first place with a win at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya, which has lost four of five matches, hosts rock-bottom Hapoel Haifa, which has won just once all season.

Elsewhere, Hapoel Beersheba goes for its fourth consecutive victory when it visits Bnei Sakhnin.

On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Yehuda welcomes Acre.
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