Maccabi Haifa’s Itay Shechter.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The battle for a top-six finish and a place in the Premier League championship playoffs remained extremely tight on Sunday after Maccabi Petah Tikva and Beitar Jerusalem drew 1-1.
Eli Dasa’s stunning strike from 25 meters out gave Beitar the lead in the 59th minute, but Joachim Mununga leveled the score with a header six minutes later and Beitar couldn’t capitalize on Daniel Dimov’s sending off nine minutes from time.
Petah Tikva remained in fourth place, two points in front of Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Ra’anana.
Just seven points separate fourth and ninth place ahead of Monday’s showdown between two of the league’s most disappointing teams this season, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel enters the match from 11th place, just three points off Hapoel Petah Tikva and the relegation zone. Hapoel has won just one of its past eight matches, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Hapoel Beersheba last week.
“There is no denying that we are fighting for our lives,” said Tel Aviv’s coach, Eli Cohen on Sunday. “We played well against Beersheba despite the defeat and I hope we can build on that form.”
Haifa is just two points ahead of Hapoel, but will be coming into Monday’s match brimming with confidence after claiming its biggest win of the season last week, beating Ashdod SC 5-0.
Itay Shechter, Eliran Atar and Mohamed Kamara all scored their first goals for the club since joining the Greens in the January transfer window, with Yossi Benayoun also showing promising form by setting up two goals.
Despite its dismal campaign to date, Haifa, which is aiming to claim consecutive victories for just the second time this season, can close within just a single point of a place in the top six, which will lead to the championship playoffs.
“Haifa experienced a big crisis and unlike us they also had big expectations,” said Cohen. “They played well last week and we want to prevent them from doing so once more.
“Our players now understand that they are fighting against relegation and it shows on the pitch,” Cohen added. “It only takes two wins to climb out of the bottom half of the standings and we need to first and foremost fight on Monday.”