(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem's revitalized championship campaign faces a stern test on Saturday evening.
The two-time reigning Premier League champion closed to within five points of first-placed Maccabi Haifa on Monday and will be hoping to make-up further ground when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Betar has won four of its last five league matches and will be brimming with confidence after Monday's 2-1 victory over Maccabi Netanya. However, Petah Tikva has lost just once in 10 home games this season and drew 1-1 with Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium in November.
"Petah Tikva is a good home team, but we're going through a good period of our own and we need to continue our winning streak," Betar midfielder Idan Tal said on Thursday.
"The teams above us in the standings are the ones under pressure and not us. We're not thinking too far ahead. We just want to take the three points."
Haifa will be looking to get back to winning ways on Saturday after losing two straight matches and winning just twice in its last seven league encounters.
Maccabi hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva and will have to manage without four key players.
Yaniv Katan, Dekel Keinan, John Culma and Thembinkosi Fanteni are all suspended and coach Elisha Levy will need his second-string players to come-up with the goods to make sure the team maintains its place at the top of the standings.
"It's important we don't lose our confidence. Petah Tikva is an excellent team which has won two straight matches, but we must focus on ourselves," Levy said on Thursday.
"We have a good squad and there are plenty of players who can replace the ones missing."
Netanya, which missed a chance to go top on Monday, hosts third-from-last Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday, knowing it can't afford another slip-up at home.
Lothar Matthaus's team has won just two of its last eight home matches, faltering recently against the bottom two sides, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan and Bnei Sakhnin.
Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda visits Sakhnin and Hakoach hosts Ashdod SC.
On Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.