Maccabi Haifa coach Fred Rutten.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Something that has been unthinkable for Maccabi Haifa over the past few decades could become a reality on Saturday should the Greens lose to Hapoel Ashkelon.
A defeat for Haifa, which has won just two of its past 11 matches, the last nine under the guidance of new Dutch coach Fred Rutten, will leave it just four points above the relegation zone with four games to play, making the once inconceivable prospect of demotion to the National League a real possibility.
Haifa dominated the first decade of the 21st century, winning seven championships between 2000 and 2011. But despite continuous significant spending by owner Jacob Shachar, with Haifa’s budget consistently among the top three in the league, the Greens finished between fourth and sixth in five of the past six seasons, coming second in 2012/13.
Seven coaches have come and gone since Elisha Levy left in the summer of 2012 and Haifa is guaranteed to end this season in its lowest position in at least 30 years, with the last time Maccabi finished a campaign outside the top six being in 1987/88 when it came ninth.
Considering its nightmare season, Haifa would happily settle for ninth place in 2017/18, with the team currently in 10th, seven points above Ashkelon and the relegation zone.
Asheklon snapped a 10-match winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Bnei Sakhnin last week, but Messay Dego’s side remained three points from safety after Ashdod SC defeated Haifa 2-1, leaving the Greens with eight of a possible 27 points in nine games under Rutten.
Ashdod visits rock-bottom Hapoel Acre on Saturday, with a win for the former to officially relegate the latter.
Elsewhere Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona welcomes Hapoel Ra’anana, while Maccabi Netanya visits Bnei Yehuda in the championship playoffs.
On Sunday, Hapoel Beersheba, which has a six-point gap at the top, looks to take another step towards a third straight league title when it hosts Hapoel Haifa.
Second-placed Beitar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday.
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