Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Niv Zrihen (center) terrorized Beitar Jerusalem’s defense throughout last night’s 3-1 win, scoring twice after setting up the opener.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba solidified its status as the favorite to claim the Premier League championship on Wednesday night, opening a four-point gap at the top of the standings with a 3-1 win over second- placed Beitar Jerusalem at Turner Stadium.
Beersheba took a significant step towards its third straight league title thanks to a sensational performance by Niv Zrihen, who scored in the 39th and 50th minutes after setting up Ben Sahar’s third-minute opener. Beitar got a goal back courtesy of an Erik Sabo penalty in the 53rd minute, but Beersheba comfortably held on for the three points that leave it in a superb position with eight matches to play.
The reigning champion not only opened some breathing room from Beitar, but also moved eight points clear of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Haifa following their defeats.
“This is an important win, like last week’s win and like the win I hope we register next week,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar, attempting to quickly bring his players back down to earth ahead of next Monday’s visit to Maccabi Tel Aviv. “I’m realistic. We are experiencing such a long and tough season and there are still eight matches left and we have just as difficult a game coming up on Monday.
We are happy because we played well against an excellent team, but we need to wait with the celebrations. Every win is significant and we are seeing that everyone can beat everyone in the championship playoffs. There is no room for mistakes right now.”
Beersheba extended its record unbeaten run at Turner to 50 league matches, a streak stretching back to the opening of the venue early in the 2015/16 campaign.
Beitar scored for a 34th consecutive league game, but that will be of little consolation for Jerusalem, which is winless in its past 17 league games against Beersheba, a run that began five years ago.
Beersheba got off to the perfect start, netting its quickest goal of the season to break the deadlock. Zrihen burst through the Beitar defense and the ball fell to Sahar, who clinically found the bottom right corner.
Beitar responded well, but in-form striker Jakub Sylvestr squandered two golden opportunities to equalize. The Slovakian striker, who joined in the January transfer window, came into the match averaging a goal every 69 minutes in league action, but he fluffed his free header from three meters out in the 17th minute and ballooned his shot with the goal at his mercy nine minutes later after goalkeeper Guy Haimov spilled Hen Ezra’s initial attempt.
Beersheba rode its luck and made Beitar pay six minutes from the break, with Zrihen coolly rounding Tal Kahila before firing between the legs of Boris Kleyman to give the hosts a two-goal cushion.
Zrihen capped his excellent display with another goal, this time from the edge of the box, five minutes into the second half, and while Beitar managed to find the back of the net three minutes later, it never really threatened to complete a comeback.
Also Wednesday, Bnei Yehuda handed Hapoel Haifa’s title hopes a killer blow, claiming a 3-0 win over Nir Klinger’s side.
Mavis Tchibota (8) and Roei Gordana (13, 42) secured the three points before the break, giving Bnei Yehuda its first win in four games while leaving Haifa, which ended the match with 10 men following Gabriel Tamas’s sending off in the 67th minute, eight points behind first place.
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