Maccabi Tel Aviv continued its relentless charge to a second straight Premier League title on Saturday, opening a seven-point gap at the top of the standings with a 2-0 victory over rock-bottom Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium.
Maccabi extended its winning streak to six matches, claiming its 12th victory in 15 encounters so far this season while maintaining its third straight clean sheet and ninth in total in 2013/14.
Eran Zahavi gave Maccabi the lead with a 41st-minute penalty following a Liroy Zhairi hand-ball, scoring his fourth goal in the past three matches to take his tally for the season to a league-best 10 goals.
Zahavi suffered from a virus in recent days and had to be substituted at halftime, but Rade Prica’s (76) strike ensured the yellow-and-blue triumphed yet again and sent Bnei Yehuda to its sixth straight defeat and 12th in its last 14 matches.
“This was not an easy game,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa, whose team will see its cushion reduced to four points should second-placed Hapoel Beersheba beat Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield on Monday.
“It was really difficult to break them down so I’m really satisfied with the victory.”
Bnei Yehuda was guided for the first time by Yossi Abuksis, who was optimistic his new team can maintain its topflight status despite picking up just five points from its first 15 games.
“We weren’t sharp enough, but we were playing a tough team,” said Abuksis.
“I believe we will be alright. We will add some players and get players back from injury and will play a lot better. We had some good minutes against the best team in the country and I believe we have what it takes to stay up.”
Bnei Sakhnin continued its hot streak on Saturday with a 2-0 victory at Hapoel Acre.
Ahmed Kasoum (17) and Cristian Hidalgo (78) scored for Sakhnin, which has won five of its past six league matches, conceding just a single goal in that stretch, to seize control of third place.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona remained in fourth place with its third straight win, beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 2-0 on the road.
Barak Badash missed a penalty in the 28th minute, but scored for a third consecutive contest 10 minutes from time before Mindaugas Panka (83) secured the three points.
Maccabi Haifa got back to winning ways after two matches on Saturday, remaining one point behind Kiryat Shmona and five back of Sakhnin with a 2-1 win over Ashdod SC at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Alon Turgeman broke the deadlock with a powerful effort from the edge of the box in the 20th minute, with Rayo doubling the advantage from the penalty spot four minutes into the second half.
David Solari handed Ashdod a lifeline with his outstanding 68th-minute goal, but the visitors couldn’t find an equalizer and remained on a single point from seven away matches this season.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa beat Hapoel Ra’anana 2-0 away from home.
Goals from Ahed Azam (38) and Zarko Korac (61) strengthened Haifa’s place in the top six, while Ra’anana, which ended the match with 10 men following the sending off of Luay Taha (75), lost for the fourth time in its past five games after dropping to just a single defeat in its first 10 contests.
On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva in a showdown between two teams battling relegation.
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