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Maccabi Haifa is officially back in the championship race. The greens, winless for the last four games, survived a Hapoel Petah Tikva scare at Kiryat Eliezer and registered a much-needed win on Saturday to keep pace with frontrunner Betar Jerusalem.
Petah Tikva took a shock lead with an early first half strike, but was humbled after two second half goals by Yaniv Katan, who gave his team much needed three points and saved Maccabi Haifa from a possible shake-up.
"We must look at the positive side of things," Haifa coach Roni Levy said after the dramatic match. "I am happy with this comeback. Our team created many chances, but the problem was with our finishing. The key to the season is to create a positive momentum and I believe this will happen sometime soon."
Ashdod SC produced a stunning 3-2 win over Bnei Yehuda, while Maccabi Tel Aviv claimed an easy 2-0 victory over hapless Maccabi Herzliya. Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Netanya 2-1.
Betar Jerusalem will be looking to stay clear of the league tonight, as it takes on Guy Luzon's Maccabi Petah Tikva in a tricky away fixture. The yellow-and-black has collected seven points from its last three games and will be hoping to keep its unbeaten three-game streak alive.
Yossi Mizrahi will have to manage without playmaker Fabrice Fernandes and forward Barak Itzhaki, who are yet to recover from their long-term injuries. Toto Tamuz is expected to be promoted to the starting eleven, following his convincing performance against Croatia last week.
In Haifa, the jam-packed Kiryat Eliezer stadium was stunned in the 28th minute. The visiting Petah Tikva team initiated a quick counter attack and sent the ball into the Haifa penalty area, which veteran Alon Harazi failed to clear. Cheik Gaidaga made no mistake and jabbed the ball into the net to give the blues a surprise 1-0 lead.
Yaniv Katan brought Haifa back to life in the 61st minute, after spinning past the Petah Tikva defenders and blasting in a sharp shot which landed in the back of the net. The greens kept coming and the hard work paid off in the 88th minute.
Haifa took a poor and apparently harmless corner kick, but Mahran Abu-Ria was spotted handling the ball, which lead to a penalty kick. Yaniv Katan took responsibility and cold-bloodedly converted the spot kick to give his side the win.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 2, Maccabi Netanya 1
Tel Aviv had to manage without its influential captain Yossi Abuksis, and took the lead in the 22nd minute. Youngster Shai Abutbul received the ball after a quick move and sent in a fierce drive to give his side the early breakthrough.
Netanya showed no signs of inferiority and came ahead looking for the equalizer. Isaac 'Okocha' Abodo blasted a shot towards the host's goal, but the ball struck the upright and fell to the legs of teammate Ofir Haim. The veteran forward made no mistake and scored off the rebound in the 31st minute to level the score.
The second half was played in a defensive fashion, with very little chances in front of goal. But substitute Gili Vermut struck gold in the 88th minute after a well-crafted Hapoel attack, when he slipped past the Netanya rearguard to tap in the winner from close range.
Maccabi Herzliya 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 2
The yellow-and-blue entered the game as clear favorites, but had a tough time creating goal-scoring opportunities due to a containing game-plan implemented by new Herzliya coach Fredi David. The deadlock was broken in the 42nd minute.
Maccabi was awarded a free kick at the edge of the box, after Milan Mrdakovic was fouled en route to the goal. Captain Avi Nimni stepped up and curled the ball into the top corner of the goal, leaving Herzliya keeper' Shaul Smadja no chance.
Mrdakovic scored Maccabi's second in the 75th minute.
Bnei Yehuda 2, Ashdod SC 3
Ashdod drew first blood in the 15th minute with a Yaniv Azran strike, courtesy of a Shai Holtzman assist. Barak Badash performed a brilliant solo dribble and scored the temporary equalizer in the 50th minute.
The visitors restored their lost lead just two minutes later, when Holtzman provided a clinical finish from ten meters. Lior Asulin scored Bnei Yehuda's second equalizer in the 79th minute, but Idan Shriki's header just three minutes later gave Ashdod the win.
Hapoel Kfar Saba 0, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0
In Friday's afternoon fixture, Eli Ohana's Kfar Saba hoped to collect three points from lowly Amidar Ramat Gan, but failed to dominate and was eventually denied by a stubborn Ramat Gan defense.
Only 1,000 fans were in attendance at the Ramat Gan stadium, which was chosen as an alternate venue for the clash as Kfar Saba's Levita stadium is going through intensive renovations.
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