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Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Vidar Orn Kjartansson (front) and Hapoel Ashkelon defender Elad Gabay (left) battle for the ball during last night’s 2-2 draw in Ashkelon..(Photo by: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Haifa stays unbeaten, leads league
By ALLON SINAI
10/01/2017
Maccabi TA squanders two-goal lead late to draw in Ashkelon
A Hanan Maman winner gave Hapoel Haifa a 1-0 victory at Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday night, taking it up to first place in the Premier League standings and extending its unbeaten start to the season.

Haifa returned to winning ways after two consecutive draws at Beitar Jerusalem and against two-time defending champion Hapoel Beersheba, improving to 14 points.

Beitar can return to first place on goal difference with a win against Bnei Sakhnin on Monday. Beitar will be guided for the first time by new coach Benny Ben-Zaken.

Following the sacking of Sharon Mimer four days before the start of the Premier League campaign, his assistant Gili Lavenda guided the team to three wins and two draws to begin the season. Nevertheless, he was demoted back to his previous role as assistant last week, with the inexperienced 34-year-old Ben-Zaken being put in charge in his place.

Ben-Zaken’s only previous experience in the top flight is guiding Ironi Kiryat Shmona for three matches last season before clashing with owner Izzy Sheratzky and being fired. He went on to coach Hapoel Katamon in the National League before also beginning this season in the second division as the boss of Hapoel Afula. Lavenda will remain at the club as an assistant to Ben-Zaken.

Also Monday, Maccabi Netanya hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva. Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped two more points on Sunday, squandering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Hapoel Ashkelon after Omer Atzili missed a penalty in stoppage time.

After two straight goalless deadlocks, against Maccabi Haifa in local action and La Liga side Villarreal in the Europa League, the yellow-and-blue looked to be cruising in Ashkelon when Atzili made it 2-0 with his penalty in the 50th minute after Nick Blackman had given Tel Aviv the lead in the 24th minute. But Ashkelon stunned Maccabi by equalizing through goals from Oz Raly (82) and Milan Smiljanic (84) and held on for a points after Atzili’s penalty was saved by Dele Aiyenugba.

Maccabi Haifa maintained its perfect home record on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Ashdod SC. It was yet another frustrating display by the Greens, with the team being booed off the pitch and fans calling for the head of coach Guy Luzon at the final whistle.

Ashdod played with 10 men from the 36th minute, with Nir Bardea being sent off after stopping the ball with his hand and denying the hosts a clear attempt at goal.

The winner arrived in the 45th minute, with Ofir Mizrahi being given far too much space in the center of the box to smash in what proved to be the only goal of the contest.

“After the scathing criticism we received this week it was crucial for us to win tonight,” said Haifa coach Guy Luzon, who added that the fans had every right to voice their frustration. “This win will give us confidence and will help us improve our form.”

In the first game of the day, Bnei Yehuda snapped a four-match winless streak, beating Hapoel Ra’anana 1-0 thanks to Nerijus Valskis’s winner in the 91st minute.

Ra’anana remained rock bottom with a single point from its first six matches, with the team dropping to a second straight loss since new coach Guy Levy replaced Dudu Avraham.
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