betar maccabi empty teddy 248 88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The onus in the title race moved back onto Hapoel Tel Aviv Saturday evening ahead of Monday's encounter with Sakhnin, after its rival Maccabi Haifa turned in a tremendous second-half display to beat Hakoach 2-0 at Kiryat Eliezer.
Hakoach, meanwhile, got dragged right back into the thick of the relegation battle after Ironi Kiryat Shmona annihilated Maccabi Netanya.
In other action Saturday, Betar Jerusalem beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 2-0 in front of the empty Teddy Stadium stands, while Bnei Yehuda's blistering form continued with a 2-1 home win against Hapoel Petah Tikva. Also, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Ashdod SC drew 0-0.
Maccabi Haifa 2, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0
It was a tale of two completely contrasting halves at Kiryat Eliezer. Haifa was hopeless in the first, lacking width and creativity while clumsy in possession, but whatever Coach Elisha Levy said (or threw) during the break seemed to do the trick, as his team was vastly improved in the second.
Although Haifa's Lior Rafaelov blazed the ball over in the opening minutes after linking up with Thembinkosi Fanteni, Hakoach soon took control, with the boisterous Barak Badash heading Idan Weitzman's cross over the bar and Nir Davidovich saving the latter's drive. Badash then scuffed his shot wide after expertly controlling Joseph Nwafor's pass.
Haifa was quick out the of blocks after the half, and on 47 minutes, Shlomi Arbeitman - who had only just come on for the disappointing Eyal Golasa - collected a pass from Yaniv Katan on the edge of the box, sidestepped Yisrael Rosh and hit a weak shot that crept into the far corner past a sluggish Joslain Mayebi in the Hakoach goal.
The hosts doubled their lead two minutes later with a goal of high quality. Man-of-the-match Gustavo Boccoli whipped over a far-post cross and Rafaelov sent a smashing volley into the top corner.
Goal difference could be a major factor come the end of the season in the championship race, and Haifa will be disappointed that it didn't build on its advantage, as Eyal Meshumar, Fanteni and the abjectly awful Omri Afek failed to capitalize on the opportunities that came their way.
Levy said there was "no doubt" that the game was about "two completely different halves." He admitted that his team was "bad" in the first period, saying his players "didn't take responsibly, lost the ball on numerous occasions and lacked confidence."
Levy vowed that his side "won't be so naÃ¯ve" in next week's massive top-of-the-table clash with Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Maccabi Netanya 1, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3
Lothar Matthaus' men appeared to have their minds firmly on this Wednesday's State Cup semifinal match against Haifa, while bottom side Kiryat Shmona gave itself a glimmer of a chance of avoiding relegation.
The visitors took a seventh-minute lead when Amir Nussbaum cracked a shot into the bottom corner after Bevan Fransman's clearance fell to the edge of the box.
There was more than a hint of controversy to Ironi's second tally, which came midway through the second period.
Yero Bello bore down on goal, and although Ze'ev Haimovich appeared to make a clean challenge, the referee sent the Netanya defender off and awarded the visitors a penalty, which Guy Tzarfati converted.
Ironi sealed the win with 15 minutes to go when Yuval Avidor finished with aplomb after Bello's brilliant through-ball.
The hosts went down to nine men in the closing stages when Alberto Zapata picked up his second booking, before Dedi Ben-Dayan poked home an injurytime consolation goal from Avi Knafo's low cross.
Bnei Yehuda 2, Hapoel Petah Tikva 1
Bnei Yehuda moved two points behind fourth-placed Netanya and remains in contention for a coveted place in next season's UEFA Europa League.
Pedro Galvan's rebound gave the home side a 20th-minute lead, but Avi Rekein wiped out the advantage with an unstopped 25-meter strike eight minutes before the break.
The winner came against the run of play courtesy of an Assi Baldout penalty, awarded for a hand-ball by Itzik Cohen.
Betar Jerusalem 2, Maccabi Tel Aviv 0
In the capital, Amit Ben-Shushan put the hosts ahead early in the second half, knocking the ball past Tel Aviv stopper Dragoslav Jevric before sweeping it into the corner, and Idan Vered wrapped up the victory 11 minutes from time, firing home with his left foot after Jevric had saved his initial effort.
Maccabi was wasteful in attack, particularly Scott Sealy, who twice struck the woodwork.