Hapoel Beersheba kept alive its dwindling title hopes on Saturday night, returning to winning ways in the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Bnei Sakhnin at Vasermil Stadium.

Beersheba closed to within four points of league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv, which doesn’t host Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby until Monday.

Beersheba recorded its ninth win from the past 11 games on Saturday after dropping to just its second defeat in 20 matches last week, suffering a shock 1-0 loss at lowly Hapoel Ra’anana.

Beersheba’s only previous defeat in the past five months came against Maccabi, which opened a seven-point gap at the top of the standings with last Monday’s remarkable 3-2 victory over Hapoel in the derby.

Beersheba will be hoping Maccabi slips up on Monday ahead of its showdown with the yellow-and-blue at Bloomfield Stadium next week in what looks to be its final chance to close in on the defending champion.

Beersheba’s goals against Sakhnin both came courtesy of its center- backs, with Tomislav Pajovic giving the hosts the lead in the third minute before William Soares doubled the advantage in the 59th minute.

Sakhnin lost all hope of mounting a fightback when Ali Osman was sent off in the 70th minute for a dangerous tackle on Evyatar Iluz.

“We played exactly the way I wanted to and got the championship playoffs off to a winning start,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy. “Maccabi is a very good team and in order to fight for the championship we will need to win at Bloomfield and also beat the likes of Hapoel Tel Aviv on the road. If we do that we will then be able to say that we are challengers. We are not there at the moment. We believe we can win any match, but instead of talking about it we need to show it at Bloomfield next week.”

Ironi Kiryat Shmona moved into pole position in the battle for third place and Europa League qualification on Saturday, beating Maccabi Haifa 1-0 thanks to Weeam Amasha’s 67th-minute penalty.

A questionable call by referee Orel Greenfeld gifted Kiryat Shmona the spot kick, with TV replays showing that Taleb Tawatha’s foul on Ahmed Abed was committed outside the box.

Amasha left Haifa for Kiryat Shmona in the January transfer window after falling out of favor with coach Arik Benado, not appearing in a single match for the Greens in the first half of the season. He scored his fourth goal of the season for Kiryat Shmona on Saturday, but refused to celebrate against his former club.

“Everything that happened at Haifa is behind me,” said Amasha, whose team moved three points clear of Haifa. “This is the way it is sometimes in professional sports and I’m focusing on the future, not the past.”

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