Hapoel Beersheba will enter next week’s showdown with Maccabi Tel Aviv within striking distance of the league-leader after extending its unbeaten streak to 14 matches on Saturday, defeating Ashdod SC 2-0 at Vasermil Stadium for its sixth victory from the past seven games.
A sensational solo effort by Maor Buzaglo handed Beersheba the lead in the 52nd minute, with the midfielder chipping defender Michael Siroshtein before firing past goalkeeper Ofir Marziano.
Glynor Plet clinched the three points from close range in the 64th minute to move Beersheba tied on points with Maccabi, which visits Bnei Sakhnin in Netanya on Sunday, before hosting the Southerners at Bloomfield Stadium next week.
“This is another important win,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy.
“We need to build on this form and keep enjoying ourselves.”
While Levy continued to talk down his team’s chances of claiming the league title, he insisted that Beersheba will be aiming to defeat the yellowand- blue for the second time this season next week.
“We are entering the match against Maccabi in a good position,” said Levy. “This will be a very tough test for us. We enter every match with the aim of winning it and this won’t be any different. We are very confident of our capabilities and know we have a very strong team, but I don’t think it is right for us to be talking about winning the title. We’ll get through this match and we’ll go from there.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa rebounded from their shock State Cup exits last week as the battle for third place continued on Saturday.
After being knocked out by Hapoel Haifa in the round of 32 last Wednesday, Tel Aviv secured its fifth consecutive league victory by the 17th minute of Saturday’s match.
Besart Abdurahimi continued his superb form for the Reds with a brace (9, 16), with Omer Damari completing the 3-0 win by taking his leaguebest tally for the season to 14 goals in the 14th minute.
After weeks of relentless speculation connecting him with a move away from Hapoel, Damari will remain at the club until the end of the season. However, Hapoel will have to manage without Itay Shechter for the rest of 2013/14 after a loan deal was agreed with French club Nantes over the weekend, helping ease Tel Aviv’s financial struggles.
“I felt free. I’m happy this saga is behind me,” said Damari. “I had a difficult month, but now it’s over and I can completely focus on playing for Hapoel.”
Haifa was sent packing from the cup by Hapoel Ra’anana in a penalty shootout last Wednesday, but was back smiling on Saturday after an Alon Turgeman goal seven minutes from time gave the Greens a 1-0 victory over cross-town rival Hapoel Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Maccabi squandered numerous chances before Turgeman finally found the back of the net, allowing coach Arik Benado to dedicate the victory to the supporters, who have experienced a frustrating season.
“This is a sweet victory,” said Benado.
“I’m very happy with the result and our form and I hope we can build on this. We did everything the way we needed to and were eventually rewarded.”
Haifa climbed up to fourth place, one point behind Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Benado is confident his team can ultimately leapfrog the Reds and qualify for the Europa League.
“Our goals from the start of the season have since changed,” he admitted.
“We are undergoing a process this season which we hadn’t expected. We are making adjustments and I hope we can claim the ticket to Europe.”
The battle against relegation heated up on Saturday, with just seven points now separating Hapoel Ra’anana in ninth place and Bnei Yehuda at the bottom of the standings.
Bnei Yehuda claimed only its second victory since last August, beating Ra’anana 2-0 on the road. Liam Walker handed the visitors the advantage with an accurate free kick from 20 meters out four minutes into the second half before Amir Agajev’s bullet guaranteed the victory one minute from time.
Maccabi Petah Tikva picked up a precious point on Saturday thanks to Nitzan Damari’s equalizer three minutes into stoppage time, snatching a 3-3 draw against Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Goals from Ofir Mizrahi (11) and David Manga (21) gave Kiryat Shmona a seemingly comfortable lead, only for a Hen Dilmoni own goal (33) and Gidi Kaniuk strike (42) to level the score before halftime.
Manga looked to have given Kiryat Shmona all three points with his goal in the 91st minute, but Damari ensured the spoils would be shared.
Striker Barak Badash watched Kiryat Shmona’s match from the stands after signing a deal to leave the Northerners for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The 31-year-old will not take part in Sunday’s game versus Sakhnin.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem, which is just four points off the relegation zone, hosts Hapoel Acre, which is one point and one place further back.