Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv both prepared for next week’s mouthwatering derby in emphatic fashion on Saturday, with the Yellows winning 4-1 at Hapoel Ramat Gan and the Reds smashing John Gregory’s Ahi Nazareth 4-0.
Elsewhere, a late Hamed Ghanayim strike gave Bnei Sakhnin a 1-0 victory at Hapoel Ra’anana, while Hapoel Beersheba beat Maccabi Netanya 2-0, thanks to second-half goals by Barak Badash and Maor Meilikson.
Also Saturday, Idan Weitzman canceled out a Tal Ben-Haim penalty to earn Ashdod SC a point at Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Hapoel Acre’s Oshri Gita and Ben Binyamin were both sent off in a goalless draw at home to Hapoel Petah Tikva.Hapoel Tel Aviv 4, Ahi Nazareth 0
Despite a comfortable win for his side at Bloomfield Stadium, Hapoel coach Eli Gutman was well aware that, with all due respect to Ahi Nazareth, the Reds face a challenge on a completely different level against Rubin Kazan on Thursday.
And with the UEFA Europa League tie in the freezing Russian temperatures firmly on his mind, Gutman was extremely critical of his team’s wasteful second-half display on Saturday.
“It was a very weak second-half performance and what irritates me most is when a player gets into a position, sees his teammate better placed, but instead of passing, just shoots with power,” he said, vowing, “there will be changes against Rubin Kazan on Thursday.”
Nazareth got off to a nightmare start as Gregory’s side was caught out by the lightening pace of Itai Shechter. Bibras Natcho chipped the ball forward to the Hapoel striker, who beat the sliding Shlomi Hanuka and finished through the legs of Joslain Mayebi on seven minutes.
Tomer Hemed then headed just wide at the other end, but any faint hope the visitors had of getting back into the game then received a severe blow when Majd Younis got a straight red card for a two-footed challenge on Maharan Lala, who can count himself lucky not to have broken his leg.
Nazareth did well to keep Hapoel at bay for the next 32 minutes, after which the visitors suffered a dramatic end-of-first-half collapse.
Six minutes before the break, Rami Duani got in a good tackle to rob Shechter, but the grounded Nazareth defender then handled as Natcho attempted to run onto the loose ball. Hapoel ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama converted the spot-kick, sending Mayebi the wrong way.
Three minutes later, Gal Shish whipped in a cross from the left and Victor Merey rose to plant an unstoppable header into the bottom corner.
On the stroke of half-time, Omri Canada crossed for Eran Zehavi, and although the Hapoel forward’s effort was well saved by Mayebi’s legs, Lala was following up to smash home the rebound.Maccabi Tel Aviv 4, Hapoel Ramat Gan 1
Maccabi started strongly at Winter Stadium, with an Andrej Komac corner causing confusion in the Ramat Gan box and Yossi Shivhon scooping the ball over the bar from close range when he really should have scored.
Avi Nimni’s men only had to wait until the tenth minute before they took the lead though, the goal coming courtesy of a severe lack of communication at the back by the hosts.
Lior Jan lofted a cross into the box, and although Ramat Gan ‘keeper Itai Arkin came to collect the ball, Eli Levy headed it into his own net with Maccabi striker Emmanuel Mayuka lurking.
Tel Aviv ‘keeper Liran Strauber then made a smart save from Ivory Coast striker Serge Aylei after a neat Ramat Gan move, while at the other end, Arkin did equally well to keep out Shiran Yeini’s powerful diving header.
Carlos Chacana got in a great interception to block Jan’s volley at the start of the second half, but it seemed it would only be a matter of time before Maccabi would double its lead.
And sure enough, just before the hour mark, a Komac throw-in was cleared to the edge of the box, where man-of-the-match Guillermo Yisraelevich lashed a thumping volley into the bottom corner.
Aylei appeared to have given the hosts a lifeline with a stunning scissor-kick midway through second-half from Kobi Mossa’s hooked cross.
However, some 40 seconds later, substitute Yuval Avidor restored Maccabi’s two-goal advantage, latching onto Maor Buzaglo’s pass before knocking the ball past Arkin and slotting it into the empty net.
Tamir Kahlon got his sixth goal of the season with the last action of the match, heading Buzaglo’s comer in off the bar.
Despite the two Tel Aviv sides being in a tight race for second place and automatic European qualification, Maccabi coach Avi Nimni insisted that next week’s derby would be about the three points and nothing more.
“Even if we win, it doesn’t mean anything more [than three points] regarding the remainder of the season,” he said.
“We’ve said all along that we want European soccer, and we’re going in the right direction.” Standings & Results:
Pld W D L GD Pts
Maccabi Haifa 21 19 1 1 48-9 58
Hapoel Tel Aviv 22 14 7 1 55-16 49
Maccabi Tel Aviv 22 14 5 3 39-19 47
Bnei Yehuda 21 8 7 6 25-20 31
Ashdod SC 22 7 10 5 19-22 31
Betar Jerusalem 21 8 6 7 28-25 30
Hapoel Beersheba 22 8 6 8 35-39 30
Maccabi Netanya 22 7 7 8 29-27 28
Bnei Sakhnin 22 6 8 8 15-20 26
Maccabi PT 22 5 8 9 23-29 23
Hapoel Haifa 21 6 4 11 26-30 22
H. Ramat Gan 22 5 7 10 18-36 22
Hapoel PT 22 3 10 9 16-33 19
Hapoel Acre 22 2 11 9 20-29 17
Hapoel Ra’anana 22 3 8 11 20-38 17
Ahi Nazareth 22 4 5 13 22-46 17
*Ashdod SC punished with technical loss against Bnei Yehuda Saturday’s results:
Ramat Gan 1, Maccabi Tel Aviv 4; Hapoel Beersheba 2; Maccabi Netanya 0;
Maccabi Petah Tikva 1, Ashdod SC 1; Hapoel Ra’anana 0, Bnei Sakhnin 1;
Hapoel Acre 0, Hapoel Petah Tikva 0; Hapoel Tel Aviv 4, Ahi Nazareth 0.
Betar Jerusalem vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Channel 1 at 8 p.m.). Monday:
Hapoel Haifa vs Bnei Yehuda (live on Sport 1 at 7:20 p.m.)