Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Hanan Maman celebrates after winning goal over Maccabi Tel Aviv in Netanya.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba took another significant step towards claiming a third straight Premier League championship on Monday night, opening a six-point gap at the top and effectively ending the title hopes of one of its main rivals with a 1-0 victory at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Beersheba registered its fifth straight victory, building on last week’s win over Beitar Jerusalem to further increase its gap over second place. Hanan Maman scored the only goal of the match in the 35th minute and Beersheba held on for the win despite playing with 10 men from the 53rd minute following Ben Bitton’s sending off.
Maccabi remained in fourth place, falling a massive 11 points behind Beersheba with seven matches to play after suffering a third straight defeat in league action, a losing streak the length of which it hasn’t experienced since 2011.
Maccabi controlled the possession in the first half, but that was fine with Beersheba, who easily soaked up the pressure and made the most of its chance when it arrived.
Michael Ohana hadn’t played for the team since having his request to leave in January due to a lack of playing time turned down, but he was handed a renewed opportunity on Monday and responded by setting up Beersheba’s opener.
Ohana stole the ball from Dor Micha in Maccabi’s half and found Maman in space. Maman, who has become an integral part of the team since joining from Hapoel Haifa in the January transfer window, made no mistake with only Predrag Rajkovic to beat, with the Serbian goalkeeper getting a hand on the ball but unable to prevent it from entering the back of the net.
What seemed set to be a dream return to the lineup ended in nightmare fashion for Ohana in the 53rd minute when he fell to the ground grabbing his knee while grimacing in pain.
Moments later, with Ohana still laying on the ground, Bitton was sent off with a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Micha.
Maccabi increased the pressure, but couldn’t capitalize on its one man advantage, with stopper Guy Haimov doing well to clear the danger when Tel Aviv found the target.
Maccabi began to lose hope as the match progressed, with Beersheba always maintaining its cool to clinch another crucial win. Tel Aviv’s bitter night ended in appropriate manner when Barak Itzhaki was shown a red card for an unsporting foul in stoppage time.
Despite picking up just a single point from its past two matches and finding itself six points behind first place, Beitar still believes in its chances of claiming a first championship since 2008.
After having a 10-match unbeaten streak snapped with a 3-1 loss in Beersheba, Jerusalem could only manage a 1-1 draw with Bnei Yehuda at Teddy Stadium on Sunday, with Slovakian midfielder Erik Sabo failing to convert a penalty in stoppage time.
Beitar hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv next Monday before playing on the road against Hapoel Haifa and Maccabi Netanya ahead of Beersheba’s visit to Teddy.
“The draw with Bnei Yehuda was disappointing, but there are still plenty of matches left and we are still in the title race,” said midfielder Idan Vered, who is slowly regaining his form after a long absence, scoring Beitar’s goal on Sunday. “I really believe in our club, fans and players.”
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