Surging Maccabi Haifa can move to within five points of the Premier League summit on Saturday with a win over floundering Hapoel Acre at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.

The Greens occupied 13th place out of 14 teams after nine matches, trailing league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv by 14 points at the time.

However, since Arik Benado replaced Reuven Atar as coach, Haifa has gone unbeaten in eight matches, thrashing Ashdod SC 4-1 on Sunday for its sixth win in its past seven encounters.

The victory over Ashdod took the Greens up to third place above Yossi Mizrahi’s men and Haifa’s title hopes are alive and kicking once more.

“There was a time when the players didn’t enjoy themselves here, but now there is a good atmosphere and good results to match,” a cheerful Benado said on Thursday.

“Acre began the season well, but has struggled recently.

However, they have some dangerous players and we must be ready mentally and play aggressively so that we can build on our recent form.”

While Haifa has amassed a total goal difference of 12-2 in Benado’s eight matches in charge, Acre has lost its past four encounters, going winless in its last 11 games while conceding 19 goals and scoring just six.

Hapoel Tel Aviv can leapfrog Maccabi Tel Aviv into first place for at least 48 hours on Saturday with a win at Bnei Sakhnin.

Hapoel required an 88thminute goal by Omer Damari to beat Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 last week and snap a fourgame winless streak.

Maccabi, which hosts Hapoel Beersheba on Monday, could only manage a 0-0 draw at Ironi Kiryat Shmona, meaning the gap at the top was reduced to a mere two points.

Sakhnin had its three-match winning streak ended by a 2-1 loss at Hapoel Ramat Gan last week, but it has lost just once over its past seven home games at Doha Stadium.

Also Saturday, rock-bottom Hapoel Haifa and fellow-struggler Maccabi Netanya will look to build on last week’s rare wins.

Haifa visits Kiryat Shmona on Saturday after claiming just its second win of the campaign over Bnei Yehuda, while Netanya hosts Ashdod SC.

Netanya beat Beersheba 3-1 last week for its first win in nine matches, while Ashdod’s defeat to Maccabi Haifa on Sunday was its fifth in seven games.

Elsewhere, Ramat Hasharon faces Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, with Betar Jerusalem to welcome Ramat Gan to Teddy Stadium on Sunday four days after drawing 0-0 with Terek Grozny in a hastily-organized friendly encounter in Chechnya, Russia.

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