yaniv katan 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa needs just two points from its remaining two matches to claim the league title after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday night.
Haifa played its best match of the season on Monday, with the final margin of victory not doing its performance justice.
After a mediocre season, even while holding onto first place in the league, Maccabi finally played like a worthy champion and now has the title within its grasp.
The hosts dominated the entire 90 minutes and should have clinched the victory long before Yaniv Katan scored the winner in the 61st.
Katan made a mockery of the Hapoel defense throughout Monday's encounter and his goal means Haifa has now opened a five-point margin over Tel Aviv with just two more matches remaining in the season.
Haifa visits Netanya next week before hosting Betar Jerusalem in its final match of the season and knows a single victory, or even two draws, will put it out of reach and secure the club a sixth championship in nine seasons.
Hapoel has an easier run-in than Haifa, hosting Haokach Amidar Ramat Gan and Maccabi Netanya in its final two matches, but it needs to improve its play dramatically, as well as have Haifa suffer a complete collapse, to have any chance of winning a first championship since 2000.
Haifa was outstanding in the first half, dominating the proceedings and reaching numerous scoring opportunities.
The hosts never allowed Hapoel to find its rhythm and should have finished off the match by the break.
Maccabi created chance after chance, but the hosts couldn't make their supremacy count, with Tel Aviv 'keeper Vincent Enyeama coming to his team's rescue time and again.
Haifa midfielder Lior Rafaelov was the main culprit, squandering several opportunities, the first coming in the 14th minute.
Rafaelov was put through thanks to an excellent Katan pass, but after controlling the ball well and moving in on net, he failed to beat Enyeama with a weak shot.
Two minutes later, Rafaelov had a double chance to give his team the lead.
Thembinkosi Fanteni's initial shot was saved superbly by Enyeama and despite being first to the rebound, Rafaelov twice failed to beat the Nigerian 'keeper from close range, although credit must be given to the netminder who made a superb stop and forced a quick shot from the Maccabi forward.
Haifa was in complete control and continued to press forward, but it just couldn't find the breakthrough.
In the 30th minute, Fanteni made a complete mess of Katan's great cross, sending a free header above the Hapoel goal.
Five minutes later Rafaelov's powerful effort from 20 meters out was acrobatically saved and a minute before the interval he was once more wasteful, ballooning his shot from just inside the area.
Haifa's players began the second half the way they finished the first, and it took just two minutes for them to threaten Enyeama's goal.
Fanteni broke free of the Hapoel defense once more, but once again couldn't get the better of the Nigerian.
However, the elusive opener would finally arrive in the 61st minute.
After some sensational ball movement substitute Shlomi Arbeitman laid the ball off for Katan and the forward blasted the ball past Enyeama to give the hosts the lead they so richly deserved.
Hapoel never really came close to scoring an equalizer as Haifa easily held on for the three points and moved to the brink of winning an 11th championship in club history.