Maccabi Haifa remained within striking distance of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Premier League title race on Sunday night, beating Beitar Jerusalem 4-1 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium to cut the gap from first place to eight points.

Tel Aviv piled the pressure on Haifa with its fifth straight victory on Saturday, beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0, but the Greens responded with an emphatic win over Beitar, taking all three points for the 12th time in their past 14 matches.

“We are doing our best to focus on our own play,” said Haifa coach Arik Benado, who has transformed the team since replacing Reuven Atar.

“We have come a long way since I joined. We won 4-1 tonight but we have played much better. We are taking one match at a time and hopefully when Tel Aviv drops points we will be there to pounce.”

Despite picking up just a single point from its previous four matches since the signing of Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from Chechen club Terek Grozny, Beitar got Sunday’s match off to an encouraging start.

However, Haifa wouldn’t look back after making the breakthrough in the 21st minute.

Yaniv Katan stole the ball off the foot of Beitar defender Dino Skvorc and smashed in the opener from just inside the box.

Haifa needed just seven more minutes to double its lead.

A sensational team move ended with Taleb Tawatha squaring the ball for Weeam Amasha, who scored easily from close range.

Haifa seemed to be in complete control, but Beitar was back in the game by the break. Haifa ‘keeper Bojan Saranov parried Amit Ben-Shushan’s shot straight into Andriy Pylyavskyi’s body and the ball rolled into the back of the net (44) before Avi Rikan hit the crossbar in stoppage time.

Beitar went in search on an equalizer at the start of the second half, but saw its hopes crushed in the 64th minute after Amasha scored his second goal of the night from the penalty spot, with Tawatha being bundled over in the box.

Beitar coach Eli Cohen sent on Sadayev as a substitute in the 68th minute, but the debutant couldn’t help Jerusalem, with Alon Turgeman putting the icing on the cake for Haifa in injury time.

“Clearly we are going through a rough period,” said Cohen, whose team visits Maccabi Tel Aviv in the last 16 of the State Cup on Wednesday.

“All the momentum we had has gone down the drain. We are not playing the way we can. We will have to get our act together in the final two matches of the regular season against Maccabi Netanya and Maccabi Tel Aviv if we want to make the playoffs.

We believe we can still do it.”

Also Sunday, Maccabi Netanya and Bnei Sakhnin drew 0-0, each picking up a single point that does neither team much good in its battle against relegation.

Netanya and Sakhnin remained tied on points (26) and are just two points ahead of Hapoel Haifa and the relegation zone.

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