Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrate 248.88.
(photo credit: NK Productions )
Betar Jerusalem scored three goals for a second straight match, but yet again left Bloomfield Stadium empty-handed.
Hapoel Tel Aviv moved back to within eight points of Maccabi Haifa with a 4-3 victory over Betar on Monday night, the Jerusalemites' second defeat by that score line in just over a week.
Hapoel's arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Betar last Saturday and Itzhak Schum's team has now collected just a single point in its four matches against the Premier League's top-three teams.
Maharan Lala opened Monday's goal-fest in the 12th minute and Hapoel looked to be cruising to an emphatic victory after Betar's Tomer Ben-Yosef was sent off and Dedi Ben-Dayan converted the subsequent penalty kick.
However, for all its failings, Betar has shown time and again in recent weeks that what it lacks in quality it makes up in heart, and Schum's men cut the deficit before the break thanks to Barak Itzhaki's goal.
Jerusalem goalkeeper Ariel Harush singlehandedly kept his team in the match at the start of the second half, but for all his efforts, Betar still looked dead and buried after Eran Zehavi (67) and Itai Shechter (70) increased Tel Aviv's lead to 4-1.
Goals by Avi Rikan (65) and Aviram Bruchian (74) ensured an exciting finish to the match, but it wasn't to be for Betar, which once more found itself on the losing end of a thoroughly entertaining encounter.
"We are very pleased with the victory," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said.
"We began the match well and cancelled out Betar. However, after taking a 2-0 lead we played immature soccer. We let Jerusalem back into the game after going 4-1 in front as well and we will have to learn from this." Schum was disappointed with the result but pleased with his team's performance.
"I'm very proud of my players," he said.
Hapoel seized the initiative from the start of the match and scored the opener in the 12th minute, when Lala breezed past Rikan on the edge of the box and coolly chipped the ball over Harush.
Hapoel took complete control after going in front and doubled its lead in the 35th minute. Ben-Yosef fouled Zehavi in the box and left referee Meir Levy with no choice but to award Hapoel a penalty and send him off, as he was the last man on defense.
In the absence of regular penalty taker Vincent Enyeama, Ben-Dayan stepped up for the spot kick and smashed the ball beyond a helpless Harush.
A rout seemed to be on the cards after that, but Jerusalem surprised everyone by quickly regaining its composure and would only trail by one goal at the interval.
Three minutes before the break, Rikan made up for his earlier mistake by finding Itzhaki in the box and the striker sent a clinical header beyond Hapoel's stand-in 'keeper Neil Abarbanel.
Several spectacular saves by Harush kept Hapoel at bay at the beginning of the second half, but there was nothing he could do to deny Zehavi in the 57th minute.
Just three minutes later he would take the ball out of the back of the net once again.
Harush stopped Ben-Dayan's initial attempt, but the ball still sailed towards goal and Shechter scored one of the easiest goals of his life, heading the ball into an empty net from the goal line.
Once more, however, Betar lifted itself up, brushed itself down and mounted a comeback.
In the 65th minute, Rikan's shot bundled into the net and nine minutes later Bruchian brought Betar within a single goal, slotting the ball beyond Abarbanel after some poor Hapoel defending.
Bruchian registered Betar's best chance to equalize five minutes later, but his shot went just wide and yet again Betar ended a match with nothing to show for its valiant effort.
Jeremy Last contributed to this report