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Maccabi Haifa put in on another solid performance in a 6-1 rout over Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday to extend its unbeaten streak to five matches and rejoin race for second place in the Premier League.
Roni Levy's squad moved to within five points of second place Maccabi Tel Aviv, which lost 3-2 to Bnei Yehuda.
The undeniable star for the outgoing league champion was Shlomi Arbeitman, who powered his team's attack and scored four goals.
Forward Alain Masudi made an impressive comeback from his suspension and scored for Haifa after coming on as a substitute in the second half.
Betar Jerusalem can take another big step towards the league championship on Sunday night when it takes on Uri Malmilian's Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan. Betar will have a tough time against struggling Ramat Gan, which still has a mathematical chance to survive in the top division and is expected to put on a strong display.
At Kiryat Eliezer, Hapoel Petah Tikva came out with an ultra-defensive formation to try and contain Haifa's potent attack. Maccabi seemed unimpressed and punished the visitors' hapless defense within 14 minutes of play, thanks to inspired work by Yaniv Katan on the left flank.
Arbeitman drew first blood with a close range strike and right back Eyal Meshumar netted Haifa's second in the 40th minute.
Katan was active yet again in stoppage time of the first half and created another easy opportunity for Arbeitman, who had no problem scoring his second of the game.
Shimon Abu Hatzira pulled one back for Petah Tikva in the 63rd minute, but Arbeitman had yet to say the last word. The prolific striker completed his hat-trick in the 67th minute and added his fourth just seven minutes later.
Masudi capped the scoring with a close-range header in the 84th minute.
"The difference was in the quality of the finishing," Haifa coach Levy commented. "We are having a very unstable season and I'm glad we're getting our act together.
"I also want to congratulate Shlomi [Arbeitman] on his great performance. It took him some time to learn our system and he'll surely get better next season."
Bnei Yehuda 3, Maccabi Tel Aviv 2
Maccabi Tel Aviv dominated the opening stages and took an early lead in the 11th minute to the joy of 2,000 loyals who filled Bloomfield Stadium.
Moshe Biton did the damage for Maccabi, but Bnei Yehuda's Lior Asulin scored a brilliant solo goal in the 30th minute to level the score.
The scoring pattern repeated itself in the closing stages of the
first half. Avi Nimni converted a penalty in the 39th minute after Jese Vedran was spotted handling the ball in the box.
Vedran rectified his mistake six minutes later, as he jabbed in the ball from point-blank range for a 2-2 halftime score.
Both teams played a relative defensive game in the second half, settling for the occasional counterattack.
Bnei Yehuda was the better team in the closing stages and found the winner in the 78th minute. Imoro Lukman earned his team all three points with a crisply struck shot from long range.
Maccabi Herzliya 4, Hapoel Tel Aviv 1
Herzliya took a surprise lead just four minutes into the game after a well-crafted attack. Omer Buksenboim found Kfir Edri on the flank, and Edri crossed the ball towards Mahran Radi. The energetic midfielder let fly from outside the box and the ball landed in the back of the net.
To make matters worse for visiting Tel Aviv, influential striker Ibazito Ogabuna sustained a knee injury in the 20th minute and had to be substituted.
However, Elyaniv Barda stepped up his play and found the crucial equalizer in the 38th minute by making the most of a brilliant assist from Salim Toama.
Herzliya came out strong in the second half and punished Nir Levin's squad with a quick-fire double within the span of four minutes. Igor Mostarlic gave Herzliya the lead in the 69th minute, with Frenchman Yannick Kamanan scoring the third.
Buksenboim added to Tel Aviv's misery in the 83rd minute.
Saturday's Matches: Maccabi Haifa 6, Hapoel PT 1; Maccabi PT 2, Ashdod SC 0; Hapoel Kfar Saba 0, Maccabi Netanya 0; Bnei Yehuda 3, Maccabi TA 2; Maccabi Herzliya 4, Hapoel TA 1.
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