(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem has failed to dominate yet again. In a seemingly easy home fixture against Reuven Atar's struggling Maccabi Netanya, the yellow-and-black was lacklustre in attack, managing only a 0-0 draw at Teddy Stadium in the capital.
The result means that Betar keeps its single point lead over second placed Ashdod SC, which was held to a 2-2 draw by Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba.
Maccabi Haifa will be in action on Sunday night against Yitzhak Shum's Hapoel Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer, in what could prove to be the greens last chance to regain lost ground and catch up with the frontrunners.
Haifa coach Roni Levy will have to manage without his influential playmaker Gustavo Boccoli, who is suspended for one game after collecting five yellow cards. Brazilian midfielder Xavier Anderson is expected to be promoted to the starting eleven.
At Teddy, Netanya came out with an effective man-marking system, which was enough to maintain a clean sheet in the first half.
Ori Uzan was sent off in the 44th minute, leaving the visitors with 10 men and giving Betar the advantage.
The yellow-and-black took control of the game in the second half as expected, but failed to produce the last touch in front of goal. Toto Tamuz and Michael Zandberg had numerous chances to strike gold, but were unable to score and avoid the draw.
Betar coach Yossi Mizrahi said after the game: "We are lacking the finishing touch and I have said that in our previous games also. But we have to move on and improve. There is no reason to be under pressure, as we are still leading the league."
Maccabi Tel Aviv 1, Maccabi Petah Tikva 0
The yellow-and-blue dominated the opening stages of the game, thanks to crafty passing by veterans Avi Nimni and Giovanni Rosso. The results arrived in the 21st minute, when Shivkhon headed in from point-blank range to put the hosts ahead.
The "Luzons" produced some attacking soccer in the second half, coming close to scoring in the 90th minute. Patrick Suffo's shot looked destined to land in the back of the net, but Tel Aviv goalkeeper Tvrtko Kala fisted the ball away in acrobatic fashion.
Hapoel Kfar Saba 2, Ashdod SC 2
Samuel Yeboah gave Kfar Saba a dream start, providing a clinical finish in the fourth minute. But the visitors from the south retaliated just 18 minutes later, when Yaniv Azran headed in a brilliant Christian Gonzales cross from the right flank.
Azran completed his brace after punishing the hosts with another close-range shot, putting Ashdod ahead for the first time in the game.
But Kfar Saba leveled the score three minutes later, when Yeboah scored his second goal of the game.
Maccabi Herzliya 1, Hakoach Ramat Gan 2
Pati Yablanka put the hosts ahead in the 35th minute, heading in a corner taken by Maharan Radi. But Uri Malmilian's Ramat Gan drew level in the 43rd minute when Mor Golan capitalized on a terrible mix-up in the Herzliya defense.
Itai Sela, who had entered the game in the 78th minute, provided the winner for Ramat Gan after successfully intercepting a Shuki Nagar free kick in injury time.
Hapoel Petah Tikva 0, Bnei Yehuda 0
In a typical bottom-of-the-table clash, Hapoel Petah Tikva and Bnei Yehuda played a defensive game and settled for one point each. Petah Tikva's Moti Kakoon came close to scoring the winner in the dying minutes of the encounter, but Vincent Enyeama was rock-solid in the Bnei Yehuda goal.