Despite the relentless pace being set by Premier League-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Beersheba refuses to throw in the towel on the title race.

Maccabi has won 18 of 22 league games to date and handed Beersheba just its second defeat of the campaign last Sunday.

However, Beersheba is still only six points behind the defending champion, ensuring it remained within striking distance thanks to Elyaniv Barda’s 86th-minute winner in Monday’s 2-1 victory over Bnei Sakhnin.

Barda’s first goal in more than three months gave Beersheba its seventh win from the past nine matches and the Southerners seem to already have second place all but wrapped up, opening a 14-point gap over Ironi Kiryat Shmona in third.

Beersheba can put some pressure on Maccabi by closing to within three points, for at least 24 hours, when it visits Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday.

Maccabi doesn’t host Hapoel Haifa until Sunday due to Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 first leg vs FC Basel at Bloomfield Stadium, which ended after press time.

Ashdod SC will look to keep alive its hopes of sneaking into the top-six championship playoffs when it hosts the deteriorating Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday.

Seventh-place Ashdod currently trails Sakhnin by four points, with four more matches to be played in the regular season before the league is split in two. The top six will face one another twice more, while the bottom eight teams will play each other one more time.

After an encouraging start to the season, Ra’anana is just four points off the relegation zone after going winless over its past 15 matches.

The battle against relegation looks set to come down to four teams, with Ra’anana (20 points), Maccabi Petah Tikva (16), Ramat Hasharon (16) and Bnei Yehuda (15) to fight it out not to be among the two sides demoted to the National League at the end of the season.

Hapoel Acre seemed to be in deep trouble until it won its past two matches to move nine points clear of the bottom two.

Nevertheless, Acre will be desperate for three more points to calm its nerves when it visits Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Sakhnin hosts Petah Tikva and Beitar Jerusalem visits Kiryat Shmona.

On Monday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv in a showdown between the league’s biggest disappointments this season.

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