Maccabi Tel Aviv reestablished a four-point gap over Hapoel Beersheba at the top of the Premier League standings on Sunday night, claiming a scrappy 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana in Netanya.
Maccabi looked jaded for long periods of the match, likely suffering from a physical and mental hangover from Thursday’s Europa League exit in Basel.
However, the defending champion made the most of its opportunities when they arrived, taking the lead in the 22nd minute through a Rade Prica header before clinching all three points thanks to Eran Zahavi’s solo effort nine minutes from time.
Beersheba kept the pressure on Maccabi with its seventh victory over the past eight matches on Saturday. However, Tel Aviv found the way to pick up the points even on a mediocre night 24 hours later, notching its 13th victory from the past 15 league games.
“We didn’t have a great game, but we entered the match after putting in a massive effort against Basel and after two very difficult weeks,” explained Zahavi, who scored his 15th league goal of the season after racing forward unchallenged from the halfway line.
“The most important thing for us was to take the three points and I’m happy we did that. We are not feeling any pressure from Beersheba. We are finished with Europe and that will give us more time to prepare for league matches and hopefully we can regain our top form.”
Maccabi will be aiming to register a dramatic improvement in form in its final two games of the regular season, against Beitar Jerusalem at Netanya next week before visiting Hapoel Tel Aviv in a hotly contested derby the following week.
Beersheba will face Hapoel Haifa and Ra’anana in its final two regular season games.
The league will be split into two sections in two weeks, with the top six to face each other twice more in the championship playoffs, while the bottom eight clubs will play each other once more in the battle against relegation.
Ra’anana remained just four points above the relegation zone following Sunday’s defeat, but coach Menahem Koretzki was pleased with his side’s performance.
“We fought hard and reached scoring opportunities but couldn’t convert them,” said Koretzki. “I’m encouraged by our play and very pleased with my players.”