(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Haifa is off to its best start in 19 years. The 1998/99 campaign was also the last time it registered a winning streak of at least four matches, which is what it will bring to Saturday’s game at Maccabi Netanya.
It is, of course, no coincidence that memorable season also ended with the club winning its one and only Premier League championship. That doesn’t mean the red side of Haifa will be celebrating another league title come May.
It does, however, show how remarkable the team’s start to 2017/18 has been.
Especially when taking into account that the Haifa team of 19 years ago had one of the biggest budgets in the league and was considered to be a title favorite, unlike the current side that was tipped by many to finish once more in the bottom half of the standings.
Since returning to the top flight in 2009 after four years in the National League, Haifa has finished no higher than seventh place.
Even at this early stage of the season, that looks set to change, with Haifa not only picking up 23 of a possible 27 points with seven wins and two draws from its first nine matches, but also doing so in convincing fashion.
Haifa has a combined goal difference of 8-0 over its current winning streak, with its solid defense conceding so far a league-best six goals. Three of those came in a 3-3 draw with Beitar Jerusalem.
With the league to take a three-week break following this weekend’s action, Haifa knows another win at Netanya would keep it in first place almost until the end of the month.
If it weren’t for Haifa, Netanya would be considered to be the league’s surprise package. Netanya is in fourth place despite making few changes to the squad that won promotion last season and its exciting style of play has seen it score 19 goals to date, the same as Haifa, with only Beitar netting more (23).
Beitar, which has won three straight matches and is only three points off first despite the constant distractions at the club, can climb up to first should it triumph at Bnei Yehuda while Haifa loses.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Acre hosts Ashdod SC.
On Sunday, Hapoel Beersheba goes for its sixth league win in seven matches when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva, Maccabi Tel Aviv aims to keep pace when it goes to Hapoel Ra’anana, while Guy Luzon could be coaching Maccabi Haifa for the last time when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin.
On Monday, Hapoel Ashkelon welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona.