One can only wonder where Betar Jerusalem would be right now had David Amsalem been in charge from the start of the campaign. The new Betar coach made it three wins out of three on Saturday night with 2-0 victory at home over Ashdod, and appears to have given his previously underachieving players a new lease of life.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv kept its dim title hopes alive with a 4-0 win at home to Bnei Yehuda, and Eli Gutman’s men will be hoping local rival Maccabi can do them a favor at Haifa on Monday.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Ramat Gan put its financial woes to one side, winning 3-2 at home to a plucky Hapoel Haifa thanks to a Serge Aylei brace and a George Daturu strike. The same could hardly be said of Nazareth, however, as John Gregory’s cash-strapped side lost 5-0 for the second week in a row, this time at Maccabi Netanya.
Also Saturday, a Liad Elmalich strike gave Acre a 1-0 win at bottom club Ra’anana, while the Petah Tikva derby ended goalless despite a red card for Hapoel’s Sagiv Cohen.Betar Jerusalem 2, Ashdod SC 0
At the business end of a turbulent season, not only does Betar appear to be heading to the top-six playoffs, but if Amsalem’s side keeps up its current form, it will have more than a fighting chance of qualifying for Europe via the league, a feat that seemed unimaginable just four weeks ago.
The home side took the lead at Teddy Stadium against Yossi Mizrahi’s men after only three minutes. Barak Itzhaki found Aviram Bruchian, whose first-time cross was stabbed home at the far post by Amit Ben-Shushan.
Betar should have been up by two just moments later, but after brilliantly beating Dragan Stojkic, Itzhaki put the ball into the side netting.
It was frenetic stuff, and after a neat Ashdod move, Dimitar Makriev laid the ball back to Moshe Ohayon, whose strike was too close to Betar ’keeper Ariel Harush.
But Betar looked dangerous every time it went forward, and after Stojkic had saved Idan Tal’s effort with his legs, Toto Tamuz rose to head in Eliran Danin’s pinpoint cross on 12 minutes.
Itzhaki was having a terrific game for Betar, and midway through the first-half, he wriggled free of Matan Ohayon and Cristian Gonzalez before blasting in a shot which Stojkic palmed onto the post.
And the unsighted Croatian ’keeper kept his side in the game on the stroke of half-time, diving low to his left to push out Itzhaki’s free-kick.
Tamuz got on the end of another Danin center at the start of the second period, but his chest control was careless and the chance went begging.
For all its tidy build up play, Ashdod lacked inventiveness in the final third, with Makriev in particular having an off-day. The Bulgarian had a wonderful chance to pull one back and set up a nervous end to the match for Betar, but dragged his shot wide with the goal gaping.
Gonzalez capped off a frustrating night for the visitors, receiving his marching orders for scything down Itzhaki in the closing minutes.Hapoel Tel Aviv 4, Bnei Yehuda 0
One couldn’t argue with Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon’s assessment that his players “lost every battle” at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday afternoon. And after a promising start to the campaign, Luzon’s gifted side appears to have lost its hunger.
Hapoel went ahead with a cracking goal in the 11th minute. Gili Vermut cut the ball back to Avihai Yadin, who majestically swept it into the top corner from 25 yards, giving Dele Aiyenugba no chance.
Itai Shechter then wasted golden opportunity to double the hosts’ lead, heading wide from Yadin’s cross when left totally unmarked two yards out.
Shechter was giving the Bnei Yehuda backline a torrid time, though, and was soon celebrating his 19th goal of the season. The Hapoel hit-man roasted Dean Mori for pace down the right, and although his attempted cross to Maharan Lala was intercepted by Sinisa Linic, he got a second bite of the cherry, and this time beat Aiyenugba at his near post.
Aiyenugba was having a miserable afternoon, and seven minutes before the break, he was picking the ball out of the net for a third time. Eran Zehavi whipped in a low free-kick from the left and the ball somehow rolled under the Nigerian ’keeper and trickled into the net.
Pedro Galvan should have pulled one back for the visitors early in the second half, but after substitute Michael Zandberg headed Eliran Atar’s cross back across goal, the Argentine smashed the ball straight at Hapoel stopper Vincent Enyeama.
And things then went from bad to worse for Bnei Yehuda when Itzik Azuz
was dismissed after picking up his second yellow card for upending Dedi
Hapoel wrapped up the points a minute from time, with Vermut running onto Shechter’s through-ball and wrong-footing Aiyenugba.
Haifa’s first-place lead on the Reds is now eight points with nine
games left, and just four until the gap is cut in half.