Maccabi Haifa 224.88.
(photo credit: Berney Ardov)
Maccabi Haifa ensured its place at the top of the table for at least one more week on Sunday, defeating Bnei Yehuda 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium.
Bnei Yehuda defender Dean Mori scored the only goal of the match, heading the ball into his own net in the 14th minute, gifting Haifa a first away win in three months.
Haifa had lost three of its last four road games, not winning away since getting the better of Bnei Yehuda in the middle of December.
The team has now, however, opened a four-point margin over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv, which visits Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium on Monday, with crucial points and a whole lot of pride up for grabs.
Haifa coach Elisha Levy was pleased with his team's performance, especially considering it was playing for the second time in 72 hours after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv on penalties in the State Cup round of 16 on Thursday.
"We've overcome a very tough hurdle in Bnei Yehuda," Levy said. "You couldn't tell this was our second game in three days and it's very important the team is entering the final stretch in good shape. I feel we're improving with every week and I'm pleased."
Haifa began the match well, showing no lasting effects from Thursday's exertion.
The visitors should have taken the lead after just three minutes when Osei Ransford had time and space five meters from Dele Aiyenugba's goal, but instead of coolly placing the ball in the back of the net blasted it against the upright.
The hosts reached their first scoring opportunity in the 13th minute when Mori failed to place a free header on target.
Just a minute later, Mori scored the opener, but unfortunately he headed the ball into the wrong net.
With his back to the goal, Mori decided to head a harmless cross towards his 'keeper, but Aiyenugba came out for the ball and Haifa had the lead.
Bnei Yehuda had the lion's share of the possession in the remainder of the half, but was twice denied by an alert Nir Davidovich.
In the 28th minute, Asi Baldut's left-footed attempt was well caught by the Haifa 'keeper and a minute before the interval Davidovich smothered Maharan Radi five meters from goal, preventing an almost certain equalizer.
Haifa was content with its slender lead in the second half, allowing Bnei Yehuda to dictate the play. But the hosts never seriously threatened Levy's organized and disciplined team.
On Monday, Betar Jerusalem will look to avenge the 4-0 drubbing it suffered at the hands of arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv five weeks ago.
Betar has won five of its last six league matches, reviving its title challenge, while Hapoel claimed all three points in six of its last eight games to close within one point of the summit.
However, Tel Aviv is still reeling from the tough penalty loss to Haifa and will be without three key players on Monday, with Shay Abutbul and Bibres Natcho out injured and striker Samuel Yeboah still yet to return from a family visit in Ghana.