Hapoel Beersheba’s Matan Ohayon (center) with teammates..
(photo credit: MARO ELKASLASI)
Hapoel Beersheba seized sole possession of first place in the Premier League standings for the first time this season on Sunday night, defeating Bnei Sakhnin 3-1 in a scrappy encounter at Doha Stadium.
Since losing to Maccabi Haifa in the second week of the season, Beersheba has picked up 29 of a possible 33 points, winning nine and drawing two of 11 matches.
The two-time reigning champion was far from its best in Sakhnin, but late goals by Ben Sahar (82) and Maor Melikson (87) ensured it picked up three more points.
Sakhnin had taken the lead through Idan Shemesh in the 14th minute, with Beersheba not equalizing until eight minutes into the second half through Matan Ohayon’s header.
Beersheba moved two points clear of Hapoel Haifa, with Beitar Jerusalem another point further back.
“We showed we are winners and this is a significant victory going forward,” said Sahar, who was left with an easy finish after Sakhnin’s Khaled Khalaila split his own defense with a back-pass.
On Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv can close back to within five points of the summit with a win at Maccabi Petah Tikva. Tel Aviv has drawn its past two matches and a third straight game without victory would leave it in a significant hole in the title race after the first round of action.
“We are still close to top position, but this is a moment that we need to start to get momentum and win our games and play better,” said Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Jordi Cruyff. “The last few weeks I feel that we lost four points from six that we should have taken and this obviously puts more pressure on ourselves. We cannot allow ourselves to lose more points and we have to start to win.”
Earlier Sunday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona moved up to seventh place with its biggest win of the season, thrashing Hapoel Acre 4-0. Shoval Gozlan (25), Eden Shamir (37), Nigel Hasselbaink (41) and Ismaeel Ryan (59) scored for Kiryat Shmona, which had previously netted more than two goals in a match only once this season.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa is hoping to quickly wrap-up the signing of a new head coach following the departure of Guy Luzon on Saturday. Haifa has gotten off to its worst start to a Premier League campaign in 20 years after drawing 1-1 with Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday.
The Greens have won just four of 13 matches this season, sitting in eighth place in the standings, 14 points behind Beersheba.
Luzon offered his resignation to club owner Jacob Shachar and new technical director Mo Allach shortly after the match, with the team amassing a mere 16 points from the first round of action, its worst return at this stage of the season since the 1987/88 campaign.
Allach is reportedly adamant on naming a Dutch countryman as the team’s new head coach. Allach, who only joined Haifa last month, held a team talk for the first time on Sunday and told the players that Luzon’s departure was inevitable.
Haifa appointed Dutchman Rob Maas as an assistant coach last week and on Sunday promoted youth team coach and its former player Itay Mordechai to an assistant coach’s role.
“Maas and Mordechai will prepare the team for the arrival of the new head coach,” read a Haifa press release.