Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi celebrates after scoring his team’s opener in last night’s 2-0 win over Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv snapped its longest Premier League winless streak in three years to move four points clear at the top of the standings on Saturday, mounting pressure on rivals Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Hapoel Beersheba ahead of their showdown on Sunday.
Maccabi had failed to win three consecutive matches in league action for the first time since the 2011/12 season entering Saturday, but goals from Eran Zahavi (45) and Dor Micha (83) ensured the yellow- and-blue returned to winning ways.
After scoring 17 goals in Maccabi’s first 18 league matches of the season, Zahavi found the back of the net only once in five games entering the weekend. However, after scoring in the 1-1 draw against Kiryat Shmona in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday, the midfielder was on target yet again on Saturday, netting his 19th goal of the campaign to close within 11 of equaling Nissim Elmalich’s record from the 1954/55 season.
“For me it was a good game against a difficult team,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran. “I have total confidence in this team and it is not just about this game. It is about seeing them in training every day and this is what gives me confidence.”
Kiryat Shmona can close back to within a single point of the summit on Sunday, but it will have to hand third-place Hapoel Beersheba just its second defeat of the season at home to do so.
The battle to join Maccabi, Kiryat Shmona and Beersheba in the championship playoffs may well have been decided on Saturday, with Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Ra’anana taking important steps towards securing their place in the top six at the end of the regular season.
Beitar beat Hapoel Petah Tikva 1-0 thanks to Omer Atzili’s 23rd-minute winner, while Ra’anana defeated Hapoel Haifa 2-0 courtesy of strikes from Moshe Abutbul (51) and Shoval Gozlan (61).
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“We are proving with every week that we deserve a lot of credit,” said Ra’anana coach Haim Silvas, who has guided his team to six wins in eight matches since he was fired and rehired by the club.
Maccabi Netanya (29) and Maccabi Haifa (28) can cut the deficit on the top six when they meet on Monday, with Beitar and Ra’anana currently five points clear of Netanya and Petah Tikva a further point in front.
Hapoel Acre’s lingering survival hopes were boosted by its first win in three months on Saturday, a 1-0 victory over the floundering Hapoel Tel Aviv thanks to Yuval Avidor’s winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Acre entered the contest on the back of a 12-match winless streak, failing to even score a goal in its previous six games.
However, after Tel Aviv’s Dudu Biton missed a penalty in the 73rd minute, Avidor slotted the ball in from close range seconds before the final whistle to bring Acre within seven points of safety.
Tel Aviv remained four points above the relegation zone as Hapoel Petah Tikva lost once more, but that hardly encouraged coach Eli Cohen.
“If we lost a match like this than this nightmare will probably not finish until the end of the season,” he said. “This is a disaster.
“This is a real blow and we will have to fight for our lives throughout the relegation playoffs.”
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