Hapoel Beersheba’s John Ogu celebrating his game-winning goal.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
One goal was once more all Hapoel Beersheba needed to pick up an important Premier League victory on Sunday night, while a Haim Megrelashvili winner three minutes into stoppage time gave Hapoel Haifa a stunning 2-1 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv to hand the yellow-and-blue’s title hopes a crushing blow.
Beersheba beat Bnei Yehuda 1-0 at Turner Stadium to return to first place in the standings, one point above Beitar Jerusalem ahead of their upcoming showdown.
Maccabi Tel Aviv entered the weekend just two points off the summit, but Sunday’s loss in Netanya leaves it five points back of Beersheba, just like Haifa in fourth place.
Maccabi took the lead through Eli Dasa in the 15th minute, but Haifa dominated the second half, with substitute Maxim Plakuschenko netting the equalizer in the 68th minute before Megrelashvili scored the dramatic winner.
John Ogu’s 31st-minute header was all that separated the teams at Turner, with Beersheba keeping its fifth clean sheet over the past six matches. Beitar is the only team that has found the back of the net at Turner since the start of February, doing so in a 1-1 draw three weeks ago.
“Every match is significant now,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
“Fortunately, the cliché that if you don’t convert your chances you concede at the other end didn’t turn out to be true today. We kept a clean sheet once more and that is very important. We have two-and-a-half weeks until our next match and we should have some injured players back and more options against Beitar.”
Beersheba hosts Beitar at Turner in their next league match on April 4, looking to extend its record home unbeaten streak to 50 matches.
The tight title race will be on a break for more than two weeks, with the Israel national team hosting Romania in an international friendly in Netanya on Saturday and the State Cup semifinals to be held the following weekend.
In the cup semis on Sunday, April 1, Hapoel Haifa faces Hapoel Ra’anana and Beitar plays Ironi Kiryat Shmona, with the matches to be held as a double-header at Haifa Stadium.
League action resumes on Tuesday, April 3, with Maccabi Tel Aviv visiting Maccabi Netanya, while Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Haifa the following day.
Meanwhile, Police announced on Sunday that it has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Beitar Jerusalem striker Gaetan Varenne committed serious sexual offenses.
Varenne revealed last Thursday that he is one of the players allegedly seen sexually exploiting a helpless woman in a video taken several years ago that spread through social media last week. Varenne, who told his teammates that he is ashamed of his behavior but denied any wrongdoing, appears in the video with three of his then teammates at Hapoel Jerusalem.
The Israel Football Association denounced Varenne’s conduct but said that it is legally unable to discipline the player. Beitar said it had no intention of punishing the player and he was in the team’s starting lineup on Saturday, drawing the penalty that led to his side’s second goal in a 2-0 victory over Maccabi Netanya.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Ra’anana moved nine points clear of the relegation zone, beating Maccabi Petah Tikva 3-1. Lidor Cohen gave Petah Tikva a seventh-minute lead, but Shimon Abuhazira’s brace (26, 69) completed a comeback before Karam Arshid secured the three points with a third goal in stoppage time.