Betar Boateng 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
At 7.30 p.m. on Saturday night it seemed like we had a title race on our hands. Maccabi Netanya had beaten Hapoel Kfar Saba away from home in the last minute and was just two points off the top, while Maccabi Haifa moved into third after a hard fought 1-0 win over Bnei Yehuda.
Fast forward two hours and order had been restored. Betar Jerusalem stayed first with a 3-0 champions performance at Ironi Kiryat Shmona and was again five points clear with a game in hand.
Kiryat Shmona had yet to lose a game at home in the league before Saturday, but the northern club was powerless in the face of the relentless pressure created by a Jerusalem side frustrated by last week's cancelled home game against Maccabi Haifa.
Brazilian striker Romulo was central to the visiting side's performance, scoring the first, setting up the second and staying involved in all of Betar's best moves throughout the 90 minutes.
At Kiryat Eliezer, Gustavo Boccoli ensured that Haifa edged bottom of the league Bnei Yehuda 1-0 through a 23rd minute goal, and in Kfar Saba Cameroonian-born German striker Francis Kioyo scored the winner for Netanya.
Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin stayed in 5th place after losing 3-1 at Ashdod SC and Maccabi Herzliya's Kfir Edri scored a 90th minute own goal to give Maccabi Petah Tikva a 1-1 draw.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0, Betar Jerusalem 3
The visiting side was all over Kiryat Shmona from the kick off, putting together some classy passing moves which nearly resulted in a goal in the first few minutes. Thirteen minutes in and the Betar pressure was beginning to show.
After fifteen minutes Romulo latched onto an Aviram Bruchian ball from the right wing, rounded the 'keeper and slid the ball in from a tight angle.
Gal Alberman made it 2-0 just before half time after Romulo had brought the ball down between two defenders inside the area and passed it inside to Alberman, who powered a shot in from close range.
After an uneventful opening to the second half Yoav Ziv stormed forward on the left and crossed for Amit Ben-Shushan to tap in from close range and make it 3-0.
Maccabi Haifa 1, Bnei Yehuda 0
Haifa failed to impress against Bnei Yehuda, who are in the process of consolidating the unwanted mantle of 'worst team in the league.'
Boccoli's winner came from a series of errors.
Neither team had any proper chances before Brazilian Renato took a wild shot inside the area. Imoro Lokman failed to clear properly for the visitors and the ball fell to Yaniv Katan, who crossed for Boccoli to tumble into the net.
After the goal neither team looked close to scoring again and Bnei Yehuda ended the match four points from second last.
"Before the game I told the players they need to give 120 percent to take any points from the game and that didn't happen," Bnei Yehuda coach Eli Cohen said. "I saw how we gave the ball away from just a few meters out and they scored. It's a pity that we let teams score like that. But I need to continue to believe."
Hapoel Kfar Saba 1, Maccabi Netanya 2
The game sprung into life five minutes after half time when substitute Yehiel Tzagai put the visitors ahead with a well-taken goal from 13 meters out. Less than 10 minutes later Bill Gonzalez equalized for Kfar Saba, thanks to some good work from former Maccabi Haifa midfielder Maor Melikson. But Netanya took the points right at the end through Kioyo's well-timed header.
On Sunday, matchday 19 will be completed with the Tel Aviv derby when Maccabi plays Hapoel.