Beersheba striker Dovev Gabai .
(photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)
Hapoel Beersheba's lingering title hopes could be as good as over should the team suffer another setback against Bnei Sakhnin at Vasermil Stadium on Saturday night.
Beersheba dropped to just its second defeat in 20 Premier League matches last week, suffering a shock 1-0 loss at lowly Hapoel Ra'anana.
Beersheba's only previous defeat in the past five months came against defending-champion Maccabi Tel Aviv, which made the most of its rival's slip-up, opening a seven-point gap at the top of the standings with Monday's remarkable 3-2 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby.
Maccabi hosts Hapoel in another Tel Aviv derby on Monday night before welcoming Beersheba to Bloomfield Stadium the following week.
In order to keep alive its chances of catching the yellow-and-blue ahead of their showdown on March 31, Beersheba will have to return to winning ways against Sakhnin, which has won two straight games after losing its previous three contests, including a 2-1 defeat at Beersheba last month.
"We haven’t been playing as well recently, but I think that is only normal," said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy on Thursday. "Our players are only human and we are at a very difficult stage of the season. We need to put the Ra'anana match behind us and make sure we continue picking up points the way we did previously."
There will only be one more Premier League match played on Saturday and three in total this weekend, with the bottom eight clubs not in action until next weekend.
The league was split in two after every team completed a 26-game schedule on Monday. The top six will face each other twice more, a total of 10 matches, and three games more than the bottom eight clubs, who will play one another one more time. The bottom two sides will be relegated to the National League.
Also Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Maccabi Haifa in a direct showdown for Europa League qualification.
Kiryat Shmona currently sits in third place, which leads to continental qualification next season, with 44 points, ahead of Haifa only on goal difference. Kiryat Shmona is unbeaten in its past seven games, while Haifa has lost just once in the last eight matches.