Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Premier League title celebrations were put on hold for at least one more week on Saturday night after the yellow-and-blue fell to its first derby defeat since November 2012, losing 3-1 to Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.
Maccabi could have officially wrapped up its second straight championship with a victory in the derby after second- place Hapoel Beersheba only drew 0-0 against Bnei Sakhnin at Doha Stadium earlier in the day.
However, Hapoel had no intention of allowing the yellow-and-blue to clinch the title in front of its fans, outplaying Maccabi from the first whistle to snap a six-match winless streak in the derby.
Omer Damari gave Hapoel the lead with his 24th league goal of the season in the fifth minute, scoring from the rebound of his missed penalty following a hand ball by Maccabi defender Carlos Garcia.
The hosts doubled their advantage in the 11th minute thanks to Orel Dgani’s bullet from the edge of the box, with Maccabi’s Tal Ben-Haim squandering a golden opportunity to hand his team a lifeline in the 23rd minute after his weak penalty was saved by goalkeeper Danny Amos.
Gili Vermut made it 3-0 in first half stoppage time from another penalty and Eran Zahavi’s goal in the 58th minute after coming on as a substitute at the start of the second half was too little too late to save Maccabi’s day.
The battle against relegation looks set to be fought out between three teams until the final whistle of the season, with only one of those sides likely to avoid demotion to the National League.
Maccabi Petah Tikva remains rock-bottom of the standings, but Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Bnei Yehuda gives it real hope of surviving.
Roei Dayan scored the winner from outside the box in the 58th minute, moving Petah Tikva tied on 27 points with Bnei Yehuda, with each team having two more matches to play.
Both sides are hoping to leapfrog Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, which remained just three points clear of the relegation zone after being thrashed 4-0 by Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
Shlomi Azulai handed Beitar the lead in the 25th minute and three goals in four minutes by Itzik Cohen (80, 84) and Bryan Jones (83) secured the hosts an emphatic win.
Hapoel Ra’anana officially guaranteed its top-flight status on Saturday, drawing 1-1 with Ashdod SC. Yero Bello scored the opener for Ashdod from the penalty spot in the sixth minute, but Anthony Nwakaeme equalized in the 35th minute to give Ra’anana a point.
Hapoel Acre effectively booked itself another season in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Hapoel Haifa on Saturday.
Hamdi Salihi’s winner in the 39th minute moved Acre six points clear of the relegation zone with six points left to play for.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Haifa announced on Friday that it has come to terms with Serbian coach Aleksandar Stanojevic to coach the team next season. The 40-year-old won a league and cup double with Partizan Belgrade in the 2010/11 season before coaching in China in recent years.