roni Levy 248.
(photo credit: )
Roni Levy returns to Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday for the first time since leaving Maccabi Haifa at the end of last season, looking to derail his former team's championship charge.
Haifa has won its last two league matches, opening a four-point cushion at the top-of-the-table.
And with just 10 games remaining in the season, the Greens can already see the finishing line.
So the 42-year-old Levy, who led Haifa to three consecutive championships in his first three seasons as coach, will be desperate to throw a spanner in the works of Haifa's title campaign, and not just because his current team, Maccabi Petah Tikva, is winless in its last five matches.
Levy parted ways with Haifa last summer after two relatively unsuccessful seasons and a growing animosity from the local fans, who called for his head long before he eventually left.
Haifa is planning a ceremony in honor of Levy's 17 years at the club as coach and player ahead of the match, a move which will likely anger many of the club's supporters.
"I'm not worried with the reaction of the Haifa fans," said Levy, who guided his team to a 2-0 home victory over Haifa in his debut as Petah Tikva coach in January.
"I'm sure it will be very emotional, but as soon as the referee blows his whistle all of that will disappear. At the end of the day it's not Roni Levy who is playing but Maccabi Petah Tikva. My team is facing a very tough road match against Haifa and we will need to excel to register a surprise."
Haifa coach Elisha Levy is hoping his players don't get caught up in the hype surrounding the return of their former coach to Kiryat Eliezer.
"We need to focus on the match itself and on our opponent," Levy said. "I believe that in front of our fans we will be at our best and overcome this obstacle."
Second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv will be looking to recover from a difficult 10 days when it hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Last Thursday, Hapoel was knocked out of the State Cup by Haifa and on Monday the team suffered another set-back when it lost 2-1 to Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
Prolific striker Samuel Yeboah missed both matches after not returning on time from a family visit to Ghana, but will likely be in the squad for Saturday's match.
Yeboah returned to Israel on Wednesday and after meeting with coach Eli Gutman on Thursday it now seems as though the Ghanaian will be punished with no more than a fine.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Ashdod SC and Hapoel Petah Tikva travels to Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
On Sunday, Betar visits Maccabi Netanya, looking for its fifth straight victory.
Netanya has won just three times in its last 12 matches, drawing 0-0 against Hakoach last week, and Betar forward Idan Vered believes his team can dent Maccabi's title hopes even further on Sunday.
"If we beat Netanya we might make it a three team race between us, Haifa
and Hapoel Tel Aviv," Vered said. "I'm delighted to have been given a chance in the lineup and I hope I can continue to prove myself."