Hapoel Tel Aviv goal-scorer Aaron Schoenfeld (left) battles Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Omri Ben-Harush.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
As bad as things were when he joined the club, Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman surely never imagined that the team would still be knee deep in the relegation mire two months later.
In fact, Hapoel is in a worse situation entering its relegation playoff opener against Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday than it was when Gutman took charge in January.
The Reds sit just two points above Hapoel Haifa in the relegation zone ahead of their final seven games of the campaign, while they were three points in front of the bottom two when Gutman was signed.
Despite signing nine new players in the January transfer window and showing some encouraging signs, Hapoel has won only one of eight matches since Gutman’s arrival and remains in serious danger of being relegated for just the second time in club history and the first since 1989.
“We are aware of our situation,” said Gutman. “The players are serious and understand our position.
With the right attitude I hope that we will be able to get out of this state.”
Complicating matters further is the club’s financial struggles, with the players still waiting to receive their salaries for February.
“Since owner Amir Kabiri arrived at the club he has paid millions of shekels to cover past debts,” the club said in a statement earlier this week.
“The club’s management is dealing with these debts which have created some difficulty with the club’s cash flow and is implementing a plan which will significantly improve the club’s financial situation in the near future. The situation was explained to the players who are aware that their salaries will be paid shortly.”
Only five points separate Hapoel Haifa (25) in 13th place and Maccabi Petah Tikva (30) in eighth, leaving six clubs to battle against joining Maccabi Netanya in relegation to the National League.
Netanya is rock-bottom, 16 points from safety with just 21 points still up for grabs.
Haifa visits Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona is three points above the relegation zone, but is arguably in the worst form in the league, losing four of its past five matches, failing to score a single goal during that stretch.
Kiryat Shmona (28) visits Bnei Yehuda (33) on Saturday, with the latter holding an eight-point gap over the bottom two. Also Saturday, Hapoel Acre (29) hosts Netanya.
In the championship playoffs, Beitar Jerusalem goes for its seventh straight win when it visits Bnei Sakhnin.
On Sunday, Hapoel Beersheba welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv in a mouthwatering showdown between the top two at Turner Stadium, while Maccabi Haifa goes to Hapoel Ra’anana.