Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Erik Sabo (center) prepares to score his team’s second goal in last night’s 3-1 win over Maccabi Haifa after racing past defender Allyson (right). (Danny Maron).
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem increased the pressure on Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv ahead of their showdown on Sunday, closing to within a single point of the summit after coming from behind to defeat Maccabi Haifa 3-1 at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
Beitar climbed up to second place above Maccabi Tel Aviv for at least 24 hours, improving to 43 points, one point in front of the yellow-andblue and Hapoel Haifa and one point behind Beersheba in first place.
Jerusalem may well have thought it wouldn’t be its day after Itay Shechter had his 10th-minute penalty saved and Ofir Mizrahi gave Haifa a 35th-minute lead following a mistake by goalkeeper Boris Kleyman.
However, in-form striker Gaetan Varenne continued his prolific play from January with a goal from close range on the brink of halftime before Beitar completed the comeback in the second half. Varenne netted seven goals in six matches over all competitions last month, scoring braces in the team’s State Cup round-of-32 and round-of-16 triumphs. He also found the back of the net in the league victories over Hapoel Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin, and while Beitar suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss at Maccabi Netanya last Monday, at least Varenne’s late goal ensured it remained the only team in the league to score in every match this season.
Beitar took the lead seven minutes into the second half after Erik Sabo picked up the ball deep inside his own half and ran almost 70 meters, breezing past two Haifa players, before firing into the bottom left corner.
Shechter secured the points in the 69th minute.
Despite a brief slump, Hapoel Haifa is still well positioned in the title race, defeating Bnei Sakhnin 1-0 on Saturday through Gal Erel’s 80th-minute winner. It was the second week in a row that Haifa scored a winner in the final 10 minutes and leaves it just two points back of Beersheba, despite having picked up only a single point from its first three matches in January.
“After this win there is no longer any doubt that we will qualify for the championship playoffs and that is a great achievement,” said Haifa coach Nir Klinger. “We are two points from first place and we are also targeting a place in the State Cup semifinals.”
Maccabi Netanya has still got some work to do to officially book its place in the championship playoffs, but it took a significant step towards a top-six finish after coming back from behind to defeat Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-1 on the road.
Carlos Cuellar gave the hosts the lead in the 54th minute, but a Diya Saba brace (70, 80) from two Eran Levy assists gave Netanya all three points.
Saba took his league-leading tally to 16 goals, while Levy leads all players with nine assists this season, the second of which on Saturday was especially spectacular after he picked out Saba with a 75-meter goal kick.
“It isn’t over until it is over when you have Eran Levy and Diya Saba,” said Netanya coach Slobodan Drapic, whose team remained in fifth place, but opened a nine-point gap over Kiryat Shmona in seventh with five regular season games to play.
Hapoel Acre revived its survival hopes on Saturday with a 1-0 win at Hapoel Ra’anana. Ben Azubel scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot in the 71st minute. Acre closed to within four points of Hapoel Ashkelon and safety, while Ra’anana remained just a single point above the bottom two.
Ashkelon visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Monday, while Ashdod SC, which only trails Ashkelon on goal difference, hosts Bnei Yehuda on Sunday.