Beitar Jerusalem moved eight points clear of the relegation zone with a 0-0 draw against Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday, 24 hours before the same venue hosts the mouthwatering showdown between the Premier League’s dominant forces Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba.
Beitar was denied a clear-cut penalty in the 80th minute when James Keene blocked Pablo Brandan’s powerful effort with his hand, which somehow went unnoticed by referee Eitan Shmuelevitch.
Bnei Yehuda remained in last place, but closed to within just two points of safety after both Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and Maccabi Petah Tikva lost on Saturday.
Bnei Sakhnin snapped a five-match winless streak, beating Ramat Hasharon 1-0 on the road courtesy of Dedi Ben-Dayan’s dramatic winner two minutes from time.
Petah Tikva also suffered a heartbreaking defeat, losing 2-0 at Ashdod SC, which maintained its unbeaten home record, winning thanks to late goals from Bentzi Moshel (89) and Gaetan Varenne (94).
Ashdod maintained its hopes of reaching the top-six championship playoffs, but still trails Ironi Kiryat Shmona in sixth place by four points after the northerners defeated Hapoel Haifa 2-0.
Kassio (15) and Ofir Mizrahi (39) scored for Kiryat Shmona.
Maccabi Haifa leapfrogged Hapoel Tel Aviv into third place for at least 48 hours after comfortably beating Hapoel Ra’anana 3-1 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday.
Rayo (16, 29) put the Greens in the driving seat before Reef Mesika (58) handed Ra’anana a lifeline, only for Alon Turgeman to secure Haifa’s third consecutive victory in the third minute of stoppage time.
Hapoel Tel Aviv can return to third place with a win at Hapoel Acre on Monday.
On Sunday, all eyes will be on the battle between the top two at Bloomfield.
Maccabi enters the match with a three-point cushion over Beersheba, but dropped to a 3-2 defeat when the teams met at Vasermil Stadium three months ago.
The defending champion from Tel Aviv has won 10 of its past 11 games to maintain its hold on first place, and has picked up 28 out of a possible 30 points at home to date. The yellowand- blue has also conceded just two goals in its past eight matches.
However, Beersheba was the only team to find the back of the net more than twice against Maccabi this season and has failed to score just once in nine road contests. Beersheba is also unbeaten in 14 matches, triumphing in six of its past seven encounters.
Apart from injured defender Omri Ben-Harush, Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa will have a full squad at his disposal.
Beersheba coach Elisha Levy will have to manage without three key players in defense, with Ofir Davidzada to join Tomislav Pajovic and Evyater Iluz in the stands on Sunday after pulling a muscle in Friday’s training session.
Levy is hoping the inexperienced Ben Algravli, Ben Biton and Ben Turgeman can step into their shoes.