Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s return to first place in the Premier League standings lasted for just one week after it was held to a 0-0 draw by Maccabi Haifa at Haifa Stadium on Sunday, failing to climb back to the summit at the expense of Hapoel Beersheba.
Maccabi took the outright lead for the first time since last December with last week’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Beitar Jerusalem, making the most of Beersheba’s fourth draw in five games.
However, Beersheba returned to winning ways with an emphatic 4-1 triumph at Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday and Maccabi could do no better than reduce the deficit to a single point on Sunday after failing to score in a match for the first time since last December’s 0-0 draw with Hapoel Kfar Saba, a streak of 17 games.
The three-time defending champion had its chances, but was largely neutralized by the Greens, who closed within two points of Bnei Sakhnin in fourth place.
Earlier Sunday, Bnei Yehuda officially secured another season in the Premier League while seriously complicating Hapoel Acre’s situation following a 3-1 win at Bloomfield Stadium.
Bnei Yehuda moved 10 points clear of 13th-place Acre and the relegation zone with three matches to play, hours after Barak Avramov became the club’s new owner, taking charge from Moshe Damaio. Bnei Yehuda knew that it would remain a comfortable seven points in front of the bottom two even with a defeat, but it took no chances on Sunday and officially maintained its top-flight status.
Pedro Galvan gave Bnei Yehuda the lead from the penalty spot in the fourth minute, with Amir Agajev doubling the advantage in first half stoppage time. Ahmed Kasoum handed Acre a lifeline in the 67th minute, but Antonio Mrsic secured the three points for Bnei Yehuda with his stunning strike from 30 meters out in the 90th minute.
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Acre remained in the relegation zone with the defeat, but it trails Hapoel Haifa and Ironi Kiryat Shmona only on goal difference, with Hapoel Kfar Saba one point further in front.
“We will stay up and it will be sweeter than ever,” said Acre coach Yaron Hochenboim. “Everything is tight, but will still have our fate in our own hands.”
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem looks to snap its three-match losing streak when it hosts Hapoel Ra’anana. Beitar is still all but certain to end the season in third place, sitting 11 points in front of Bnei Sakhnin. However, it is still hoping to end the campaign on a sweet note, starting with a win over Ra’anana, which is fighting for fourth place.
Beitar will once more be without Omer Atzili, who may have played his last match for the team after refusing to start the game against Maccabi Tel Aviv last week. He told coach Slobodan Drapic that he prefers to come on as a substitute after sitting out the team’s past four contests and that he doesn’t want to get the coach in trouble with owner Eli Tabib, who is unhappy with the player’s refusal to sign a contract extension. Atzili is set to face disciplinary action, with arbitration between the club and the player looking increasingly like the likely outcome to the dispute between the sides.
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