Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to wait a little longer before it can celebrate its second straight Premier League championship after dropping to a 2-1 defeat to Bnei Sakhnin at Doha Stadium on Monday night.
Despite the defeat, Maccabi remained 11-points clear of second-place Hapoel Beersheba, and with only five matches left in the season, only a most-unlikely and unprecedented collapse will deny it another league title.
However, its hopes of officially clinching the championship against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby over the weekend now also depend on Beersheba’s result on Saturday following the unexpected setback at Sakhnin.
Maccabi never really showed up for the match, with Firas Mugrabi giving the hosts the lead in the 35th minute.
The yellow-and-blue failed to muster any sort of response and Sakhnin secured the three points in the 82nd minute through Mohammad Ghadir’s goal.
Rade Prica got a goal back for Maccabi with a stoppage-time penalty, but that couldn’t prevent the defending champion from falling to just its third defeat of the campaign.
Sakhnin remained in contention for European qualification with the victory, closing to within two points of Hapoel Tel Aviv in fourth place. The team to finish in fourth position will qualify for the Europa League assuming third-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona claims the State Cup by beating Maccabi Netanya as well as finishing in the top three.
Earlier Monday, Hapoel Haifa effectively secured its Premier League status with a 1-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium. Beitar lost Aviram Bruchian to a red card in the 11th minute after he and referee Daniel Bar Natan got into a verbal exchange and Yuval Avidor scored the winner for Haifa in the 31st minute.
Haifa’s victory after five consecutive losses moved it seven points clear of the relegation zone with three matches to play. Despite the defeat, Beitar has no reason to fear for its top-flight future, still holding a nine-point cushion on the bottom two.
“We would have to be really infantile to be relegated from this position,” said Haifa coach Shlomi Dora. “Even though Beitar played with 10 men we found it difficult, but thankfully we picked up all three points and did our job.”
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