Barak Itzhaki betar mac ta 248 88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After beating Ashdod SC 3-2 at Teddy Stadium, a "very pleased" Betar coach Reuven Atar maintained that his team still hadn't thrown in the towel with regards to retaining the championship, saying that as long as there was a mathematical chance "we will never give up" on the title race.
Indeed, things are beginning to look remarkably tight at the top following the rest of Saturday's games, with Hapoel Tel Aviv getting battered by Bnei Yehuda 3-0 and Netanya only managing a draw against bottom club Hakoach.
Betar began brightly at Teddy and took the lead with 20 minutes on the clock. Aviram Bruchian wrong-footed Lior Reuven who brought the Betar playmaker down in the box. Barak Itzhaki scored the ensuing penalty, chipping the ball nonchalantly over Ashdod 'keeper Dragan Stojkic.
The visitors missed a golden opportunity to draw level when they were awarded a penalty of their own after Arik Benado handled the ball under pressure from Dimitar Makriev. However, David Revivo's spot-kick was saved by Betar 'keeper Ariel Harush.
The away side kept up the pressure though and equalized three minutes before the break. Idan Shriki found Revivo down the right, who, for his eleventh assist of the season, crossed to an unmarked Makriev to head in.
The hosts restored their advantage on the stroke of half-time, owing to some diabolical Ashdod defending and a lackluster linesman.
Bruchian played the ball to Idan Tal down the right and the Betar midfielder's cross was helped on by Itzhaki for Cristian Alvarez to fire in. Itzhaki appeared clearly offside, but the linesman failed to raise his flag and the goal stood.
The reigning champion scored a third in somewhat fortunate fashion at the start of the second period. Dario Fernandez played a terrific ball to Amit Ben-Shushan and, although Maor Peretz tackled the Betar man, he succeeded in knocking the ball into his own net with the intervention.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of Ashdod's sails, and Betar went close with a couple of humdingers from the excellent Tal and a stinging effort from Eliran Danin that struck a post.
Moshe Ohayon curled in an injury-time consolation goal for Ashdod from an indirect free-kick after Harush was penalized for holding onto the ball for more than six seconds, but Betar hung on for its second win on the spin.
Bnei Yehuda 3, Hapoel Tel Aviv 0
Bnei Yehuda gave Hapoel a soccer lesson at Bloomfield Stadium, annihilating Eli Guttman's men with some exhilarating passing and clinical finishing.
Pedro Galvan and Eliran Atar went close for the hosts in an entertaining first-half, and after a brief floodlight-failure delay at the start of the second, Guy Luzon's men took the lead.
Assi Baldout received a pass from man-of-the-match Atar just inside the box, cut onto his right foot and curled a peach of an effort into the top corner.
Ten minutes later, Bnei Yehuda doubled its lead. Maharan Radi played in Tamir Kahlon who crossed from the right for Galvan to crash a header past Hapoel 'keeper Vincent Enyeama.
Bnei Yehuda sealed the victory eleven minutes from time when Atar beautifully clipped the ball over the onrushing Enyeama after a Radi through-ball.
Maccabi Netanya 2, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 2
Lothar Matthaus's men lost more points on Saturday evening, this time against the league's bottom club.
The visitors took the lead on the half hour, against the run of play. After a Netanya corner broke down, Daniel Unger found Haim Pontramoli, whose cross was slotted in by Joseph Nwafor.
Netanya hauled itself level midway through the second half. Klemi Saban was brought down in the box by Aviv Hadad, and although Dedi Ben-Dayan's penalty was saved by Hakoach 'keeper Joslain Mayebi, the Netanya full-back scored the rebound.
Idan Weitzman restored Hakoach's lead from the spot after a Ben-Dayan hand-ball, but Itai Shechter latched on to Ben-Dayan's flick to equalize for the hosts with nine minutes to play.
Maccabi Petah Tikva 2, Hapoel Petah Tikva 1
Pablo Bastianini's goal gave Maccabi Petah Tikva a second derby win of the season to keep up the pressure on the league's leading pack, while its local rival appears to be in free-fall.
The game came to life on 17 minutes when Liran Cohen curled a screamer with his left foot into the top corner, but Hapoel soon pulled itself level. An unmarked Junior Viza headed in at the far post after Ori Uzan's bouncing cross had evaded Maccabi center-back Murad Megamadov.
Bastianini rifled in the winner on the hour after Dani Prada set him up by brilliantly skipping past three challenges.
Bnei Sakhnin 1, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0
Bnei Sakhnin leapfrogged over its northern rivals following a narrow, albeit deserved home victory.
After Abas Suan missed a penalty against his former club, the home side scored the winner on 27 minutes. The lively Ibrahim Basit broke down the flank and crossed for Awudu Okcoha to knock it in.