Maccabi Netanya forward Didier Kougbenya celebrates after scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Beersheba in Premier League action..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Netanya handed Hapoel Beersheba its first Premier League defeat since August on Sunday night, claiming a 1-0 win that means the top six in the standings are separated by just seven points.
Substitute Didier Kougbenya’s goal in the 80th minute after a well-worked team move gave the hosts a win they fully deserved.
After seizing sole possession of first place for the first time this season last week, Beersheba could already lose its position at the summit on Monday.
A win for Beitar Jerusalem over Maccabi Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium will see the former go top. A Maccabi victory would take the yellow-and-blue back up to fourth place, within four points of first.
Beersheba dropped to its second straight defeat over all competitions after losing 1-0 to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Toto Cup final last Thursday.
The two-time reigning champion had to manage once more without arguably its two best players, Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor and Nigerian forward Anthony Nawkaeme, but coach Barak Bachar refused to use that as an excuse.
“This is a disappointing result. Both teams had chances and a draw would have been a fair result,” said Bachar, whose team had picked up 29 of a possible 33 points from its previous 11 matches. “Both teams fought hard and Netanya is a superb side.
We will need to find solutions for teams that put us under pressure.”
Despite its impressive play since the start of the season, Netanya entered the match on the back of a three-game winless streak and was delighted it managed to get back on track against Beersheba.
“We played the best team in the country so this is very satisfying,” said Netanya coach Slobodan Drapic. “They reached several chances but fortunately they didn’t convert them and we managed to score in the second half. We knew we had to win this match to keep this dream alive.”
Netanya moved up to fourth place, ahead of Maccabi Tel Aviv on goal difference.
Maccabi has drawn its past three league games and coach Jordi Cruyff is hoping his team can finally get the better of Beitar.
The yellow-and-blue enters the showdown on the back of a five-match winless streak against the team from the capital, including a 3-0 defeat in this season’s opener.
“It’s always a special match as they are a team with passion and difficult to play against. Our recent history has been tough and we’ve had trouble with them,” said Cruyff. “If you have any ambition to win the title, you can’t lose the points that we have lost. In some games we deserved it, in others we had them in our hands and we lost them. A championship team can’t do that.
“We need the points and want the points. It’s a question of character.”
Beitar has won five of its past seven matches and is unbeaten in seven home games this season.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Ra’anana moved three points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-0 victory at Ironi Kiryat Shmona and former coach Haim Silvas.
A Marcus Diniz own-goal gifted Ra’anana the lead in the 39th minute and Kiryat Shmona was left with 10 men two minutes later after striker Nigel Hasselbaink was shown two yellow cards in quick succession, receiving the second for mockingly applauding referee Yigal Frid’s initial decision.
Ra’anana took full advantage, with Tomer Swisa doubling the margin and sealing the three points with a goal in the 77th minute.