Eran Levy celebrates with teammate Amit Ben-Shushan 370.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem took another significant step towards securing its Premier League status on Saturday night with a victory at Hapoel Rishon Lezion, while Maccabi Petah Tikva resurrected its hopes of survival with a win over Hapoel Haifa marred by a post-match brawl.
Two goals from Eran Levy, the first from the penalty spot in the 77th minute and the second coming via a left-footed volley two minutes later, gave Betar its fifth straight victory and all but ended Rishon’s chances of avoiding relegation, with Gheorghe Ovseannicov 87th-minute goal of little consolation for the hosts.
Betar remains seven points clear of the relegation zone with five matches to play, but coach Eli Cohen still believes Jerusalem has some work to do before it can begin its preparations for next season.
“There are still 15 potential points remaining and I’m worried we could struggle again,” Cohen said.
“We beat a team that was fighting for its life and we showed amazing character.”
While Rishon looks set to join Hapoel Petah Tikva as the second team to be demoted to the National League and Betar seems to be effectively safe, the battle to avoid finishing in 14th position and becoming the third side to be relegated got a whole lot tighter on Saturday, with just two points now separating three teams.
Danny Preda’s superb free-kick winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time gave Maccabi Petah Tikva a 2-1 victory over Hapoel Haifa at the Moshava Stadium before a post-match scuffle broke out at the end of which Haifa midfielder Ali Khatib was taken to hospital.
Yuval Avidor (38) gave Haifa the lead before Omer Golan (72) equalized and Preda clinched the precious win. However, that was all forgotten after both benches cleared and Khatib was allegedly headbutted by Petah Tikva’s goalkeeping coach before being kicked while on the ground by a man supposedly connected to the Petah Tikva management.
Several of Khatib’s teeth were broken and he lost his consciences for several minutes before being taken to hospital.
Petah Tikva’s Preda, as well as Haifa’s Gal Arel and Stefan Denkovic, were sent off for their part in the melee, with Petah Tikva also set to face further punishment from the Israel Football Association after referee Asaf Keinan files his report of the incident.
“Everyone has had enough of these types of incidents,” Haifa coach Tal Banin said. “This should not be part of sports. I just hope that Khatib will recover.”
In the meantime, Petah Tikva can celebrate climbing out the relegation zone at the expense of Hapoel Beersheba, which could only manage a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Shahar Balilti (7) scored for Petah Tikva, with Dovev Gabai’s equalizer (45) not enough to prevent Beersheba from falling to 14th place.
Hapoel Acre no longer has to worry about being dragged into the fight against relegation after beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 2-0 on Saturday courtesy of goals from Nisso Kapiloto (18) and Yuval Shabtai (74).
Ironi Kiryat Shmona will be able to clinch the championship with a draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday after third-placed Maccabi Netanya suffered a 1-0 loss to Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Bnei Yehuda postponed Kiryat Shmona’s celebrations by handing the northerners a 1-0 loss last week, their third of the season.
But Ran Ben-Shimon’s men now only need a single point against second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday, holding a 16-point gap over the Reds with just five matches left to be played in the season after Monday.
Also Monday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Ashdod SC.
A 16-minute first half blitz by Maccabi Tel Aviv gave the yellow-and-blue an impressive 5-2 win over Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium.
Barak Itzhaki (29), Munas Dabbur (35, 42), Shiran Yeini (40) and Eliran Atar (45) scored for Maccabi and took it to fifth place, just two points off second.
Joel Damahou (52) and Maharan Radi (90) netted meaningless consolation goals for Sakhnin, which dropped to seventh tied on 47 points with Ashdod in eighth, but a mere three points from second place.