Hapoel Tel Aviv players celebrating.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona remained in hot pursuit of champion Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday, while Hapoel Tel Aviv got life without Gili Vermouth off to a winning start.
Kiryat Shmona closed within a single point of the league leader with a 3-2 win over Hapoel Petah Tikva, with Maccabi Tel Aviv not visiting Maccabi Netanya until Sunday.
After spending more than three consecutive months in first place, Kiryat Shmona’s title challenge was derailed in recent weeks, with Barak Bachar’s team picking up just four points from four matches.
However, it ensured it will enter next week’s showdown with Maccabi at Bloomfield Stadium no more than four points behind first place thanks to a dream debut by Shimon Abu Hazeira. Abu Hazeira was told to find a new team by Maccabi Haifa after scoring just a single goal in 14 appearances for the Greens.
However, he doubled that tally with Kiryat Shmona within 26 minutes on Saturday, scoring twice from close range before David Manga made it 3-0 after just 29 minutes.
Petah Tikva put up a fight in the second half, but goals from Shahar Hirsch (73) and Uri Paso (84) were of little consolation for the visitors at the final whistle.
The departure of Vermouth for Maccabi Tel Aviv last week broke Hapoel hearts and exacerbated the turmoil at the floundering club. Matters had only gone from bad to worse since the departure of manager Eyal Berkovic and the sacking of coach Asi Domb two weeks ago. However, a 92nd-minute winner by Matan Ohayon gave Hapoel a 2-1 win over Hapoel Ra’anana at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday before it was announced that the HaAdumim (The Reds) fans association had taken over the club from Haim Ramon.
Hapoel is set to be the first top flight club to be owned by its fans, but it remains to be seen if they will run the club in the long run or just on an interim basis until a new owner will be found.
Ra’anana’s Shoval Gozlan (53) canceled out Ben Vahava’s (10) own goal (10), only for Ohayon to head in the winner in stoppage time and give Hapoel just its second win from the past 12 matches.
Any lingering hope Hapoel Beersheba made have had of challenging for the championship looks to have been dashed on Saturday following a dramatic 2-2 draw at Ashdod SC.
A Shlomi Arbeitman brace (12, 30) seemed to put Beersheba in cruise control, but Alexander Davidov’s (48) goal handed the hosts a lifeline and Yero Bello equalized from the penalty spot in the second minute of stoppage time. Beersheba ended the match with nine men after goalkeeper Austin Ejide was sent off for the foul that resulted in the penalty before Ben Biton was shown a straight red card for arguing with referee Guy Berger.
Israel national team striker Itay Shechter came on as a substitute to make his debut for Maccabi Haifa on Saturday, but he couldn’t help the Greens find the back of the net in a 0-0 draw at rock-bottom Hapoel Acre.
Despite playing with Shechter and fellow new signing Eliran Atar, Haifa failed to score for the fourth time in its past five matches.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva beat Bnei Sakhnin 2-0 thanks to goals by Idan Shemesh (3) and Hagay Goldenberg (78).
On Monday, Hapoel Haifa welcomes Beitar Jerusalem.