Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer .
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Avi Nimni's men opened up a seven-point gap between themselves and the bottom three with a solid 2-1 win away to Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday night, while Maccabi Netanya missed a chance to move level on points with league leader Maccabi Haifa with a 0-0 draw at home to basement boys Hakoach.
In other action Saturday, Ashdod moved up to sixth with a 2-0 win against Ironi Kiryat Shmona, and Maccabi Petah Tikva and Sakhnin played out a goalless draw.
For all Hapoel Petah Tikva's tidy passing and Junior Viza's nifty footwork, the hosts failed to create enough clear-cut chances and were undone by a disciplined Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The game started well, with Petah Tikva 'keeper Shavit Elimelech tipping Maor Buzaglo's effort over the bar, while at the other end, M'peti Nimba went close after a slick move involving Viza and Jair Cespedes.
Hapoel was then hit by two goals in four minutes. First, Buzaglo tucked away Guillermo Israelevich's pass, and then Israelevich, the shortest man on the field, sent a textbook header into the bottom corner from Yuval Spungin's cross.
Shimon Abuhatzera had a glorious chance to pull one back for Petah Tikva, but after being played in by Viza, the youngster delayed and eventually shot into the side-netting.
At the start of the second period, man-of-the-match Israelevich met another Spungin cross at the near-post, but Elimelech made a fantastic stop.
A Cespedes corner then caused chaos in the Maccabi box. Armon Ben Naim rattled the crossbar, Koni Jakreta's effort was saved by Dragoslav Jevric and then Ben Naim slipped when attempting to pounce on the rebound.
Abuhatzera scored a consolation for the hosts in the last minute, latching onto Ben Naim's pass and slotting the ball into the corner for his eleventh goal of the campaign, but it was too little to late for the home side.
Maccabi coach Avi Nimni was pleased with his players, saying they had "performed well" against a tough side, but he lamented the late goals his "naive" team continues to concede.
"We need to work on some things, but it won't be hocus-pocus, I've said that before," he insisted, adding that "we hope we won't even be involved in the relegation fight."
Maccabi Netanya 0, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0
A goalless draw was a result that suited neither side's contrasting ambitions, although Hakoach's Dudu Dahan will be the happier of the two coaches after his team gave a spirited performance, allowing Lothar Matthaus' men very little time on the ball.
Netanya will no doubt blame the lost points on a controversial refereeing decision midway through the second half that saw Dedi Ben-Dayan sent off for diving in the box when the hosts were convinced a penalty should have been awarded for a foul on the full-back by Hakoach 'keeper Joslain Mayebi.
Hakoach's Haim Fontramoli was in the thick of things in a good start for the visitors, and one of his teasing crosses was headed just wide by Joseph Nwafor.
Netanya then came into the game, with Ben-Dayan hitting the post from Golan Hermon's header before heading an Alberto Blanco cross straight at Mayebi.
Ten minutes into the second half, Nwafor turned Bevan Fransman before shooting into the side-netting and then fired a great shot from the edge of the box that whizzed inches wide.
Fransman's near post drive from Knafo's terrific pass was then saved by Mayebi, before Ben Dayan's controversial sending off.
Moments later, it was 10 against 10 though, as Aviv Hadad received his marching orders after getting a second yellow card for a foul on Itai Shechter.
Netanya substitute Dela Yampolsky missed a sitter at the death, poking wide with the goal at his mercy after Mayebi had parried a corner, and he then had a chance to make amends, but drove straight at the Netanya stopper from Shechter's lay-off.
Ashdod SC 2, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0
Two second-half goals were enough see off Ironi as Yossi Mizrahi's men moved into the top half of the table.
The first came on 51 minutes when Ironi's Yossi Biton handled a Baruch Dego effort inside the box and David Revivo slotted home the spot-kick for his ninth goal of the season.
Dimitar Makriev sealed the win four minutes from time, knocking the ball in from close range after Rahamim Tzukul had blasted it towards goal.