Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi scored his 100th Premier League goal in a 3-0 win at Hapoel Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Despite yet another unconvincing display, Maccabi Tel Aviv closed within two points of Premier League leader Hapoel Beersheba for at least 48 hours on Saturday night, beating Hapoel Haifa 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium.
Beersheba doesn’t host Bnei Yehuda at Turner Stadium until Monday night and Maccabi made the most of the opportunity to finally put some pressure on its title rival.
After playing catch-up in recent weeks and finding itself as many as eight points back of Beersheba, Maccabi extended its unbeaten streak to 10 matches with a tight victory over Haifa.
The breakthrough didn’t arrive until the 71st minute when Eran Zahavi was brought down in the box and duly converted the spot kick. The Maccabi midfielder took his tally for the season to 26 goals, four shy of Nissim Elmalich’s record for goals in a season from the 1954/55 campaign.
Zahavi has got 12 more matches in which to break the record.
Tal Ben-Haim doubled Maccabi’s advantage with a solo effort in the 80th minute before Zarko Korac scored a meaningless consolation goal in stoppage time. Haifa, coached by Eli Cohen for the first time, remained in the relegation zone, but is still only one point from safety.
“I was not happy with the first half. The tempo was too low and we didn’t create enough chances,” said Maccabi coach Peter Bosz. “We made some changes and I think that after that we saw a team that wanted to win and deserved to win.”
While Beersheba, Maccabi and thirdplace Beitar Jerusalem are already all guaranteed a place in the championship playoffs, the battle for the remaining three spots in the top six is set to go down to the wire.
Hapoel Ra’anana took an important step towards securing its place in the playoffs on Saturday, beating rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya 1-0 thanks to Evans Kangwa’s winner in the 24th minute. Netanya ended the match with 10-men following Sa’ar Benbenishiti’s sending off two minutes from time.
Ra’anana strengthened its hold on fourth place by improving to 35 points, with Bnei Sakhnin (32) climbing up to fifth on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Sakhnin won for the fourth time in five matches, keeping a clean sheet for a fifth straight contest.
Firas Mugrabi (55) and Hilal Musa (73) scored for Sakhnin.
Maccabi Haifa is also on 32 points following a dull 0-0 draw with Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Two of the league’s biggest disappointments this season provided yet another lackluster display that did neither team much good.
Tel Aviv moved two points clear of the relegation zone.
Only four points separate Sakhnin in fifth and Ironi Kiryat Shmona in 10th.
Shlomi Dora guided Kiryat Shmona (28) for the first time on Saturday after replacing the sacked Salah Hasarma last week and his debut ended in a goalless deadlock against Maccabi Petah Tikva (29), which snapped a six-match losing streak. Kiryat Shmona’s Bruno was sent off in the 77th minute.
On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem visits Hapoel Acre.