Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi .
(photo credit: Adi Avishai )
Maccabi Tel Aviv took another significant step towards its first Premier League title since 2003 on Saturday night, but the 2-0 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium was as much about pride as it was about points.
Maccabi may not have thrashed Hapoel by the 4-0 score-line it did two months ago, but the yellow-andblue was no less dominant, outplaying the helpless Reds. Former Hapoel hero Eran Zahavi scored with a sensational volley from a Dor Micha assist in the 31st minute before the two midfielders reversed roles for the team’s second goal in the 59th minute.
Zahavi threaded the ball through to Micha, who capped a memorable performance with a composed finish after only being installed in the starting lineup when Munas Dabbur pulled a muscle in the warm-up.
With Maccabi Haifa claiming a dramatic 3-2 victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona earlier Saturday, the yellow-and- blue’s lead at the top remained at 10 points.
However, even should Haifa triumph in its remaining six games, Tel Aviv, which won for the 10th time in 11 matches on Saturday, only needs three more victories to clinch just its second championship in 17 years.
“I received a very warm welcome at Maccabi and I’m trying to pay the club back,” said Zahavi, who joined the yellow-and-blue in January from Italian team Palermo. “The media can continue to talk about us already winning the championship, but we will keep on winning every match.”
Haifa had to dig deep before claiming its 17th victory in its past 20 matches on Saturday, beating Kiryat Shmona 3-2 thanks to substitute Shlomi Azulai’s goal four minutes from time.
Adrian Rochet gave the outgoing champion the lead in the 28th minute, but Hen Ezra equalized for the hosts two minutes from the break after a Taleb Tawatha assist.
Dekel Keinan headed Haifa into the lead in the 58th minute, but Shir Tzedek set up a tense finish with a goal 14 minutes later.
However, Haifa would not be denied, with Azulai netting the winner five minutes after coming on as a substitute.
“We had to fight hard for this win,” said Greens coach Arik Benado.
“We will give our all until the end of the season and if Maccabi Tel Aviv doesn’t drop any points than they deserve every credit.”
Meanwhile at the bottom end of the table, Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba took important steps towards another season in the top flight, while Hapoel Ramat Gan and Maccabi Netanya remained in the relegation zone.
Haifa continued its superb run with a 1-0 win over Ramat Gan thanks to Maharan Lala’s 48thminute goal, winning for the fifth time in seven matches and extending its unbeaten streak to eight contests to move six points clear of Ramat Gan and the relegation zone.
Hapoel Beersheba has got a fivepoint cushion from the bottom two teams after winning for the first time in more than two months on Saturday, beating Ashdod SC 2-0 from goals by Dovev Gabai (54) and Tomer Swisa (90) to snap a sevenmatch winless streak.
Netanya surely thought it was about to climb off the foot of the standings when Ali Khatib gave it the lead over Bnei Sakhnin six minutes from time.
However, a Pieter Mbemba goal in the third minute of stoppage time gave Sakhnin a vital draw that kept it two points in front of the relegation zone.
On Monday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Acre.