Maccabi Tel Aviv’s relentless surge to a second straight Premier League championship gathered even more pace on Sunday night.
The yellow-and-blue took a significant step towards defending the title by opening a six-point gap at the top of the standings thanks to a 3-1 victory over second-placed Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield Stadium.
The match was decided in a frantic first half, but could have been all but over after less than 10 minutes.
Rade Prica handed Maccabi the lead in the third minute and was brought down in the box four minutes later, resulting in a Tel Aviv penalty and a red card for Beersheba’s Ben Elgravli.
However, Eran Zahavi’s decision to try and chip ‘keeper Austin Ejide from the spot would backfire, and Beersheba leveled the score in the 34th minute courtesy of Glynor Plet’s stunning strike from 25 meters out.
But Beersheba’s celebrations would be short-lived, with Carlos Garcia ensuring the hosts took a lead into the break with his goal in the 45th minute before Barak Itzhaki ensured Maccabi claimed its 11th win from its past 12 matches with his 65th-minute strike.
Beersheba lost for the first time in 15 games, but will take more positives than negatives from Sunday’s performance as it tries to keep pace with Maccabi.
The yellow-and-blue got off to a dream start, with Prica exposing Beersheba’s inexperienced defense as early as the third minute.
Matters got a whole lot worse for Beersheba four minutes later.
On a seemingly routine tackle,referee Menashe Mashiah pointed to the penalty spot and sent off 19-year-old Elgravli, who was making just his fourth appearance of the season due to the absence of three starters.
However, Zahavi attempted a cheeky chip and his reckless penalty, as well as his rebound, were denied by Ejida, keeping alive his team’s lingering hopes.
Maccabi still dominated the possession thanks to its one-man advantage, but it struggled to create scoring opportunities and Beersheba equalized thanks to Plet’s awesome strike in the 34th minute.
Beersheba knew it had to keep Maccabi at bay until the break to have any real chance of leaving Bloomfield with something to show for its efforts.
However, Garcia put the yellow-andblue back in front on the brink of halftime and substitute Itzhaki clinched the victory in the 65th minute when his effort slid under the body of Ejide.
Maccabi cruised to its 10th win from 11 home matches in the final 25 minutes, although it was the Beersheba fans singing loudest at the final whistle, proud of their team’s effort and thankful for the progress made this season.