Hapoel Beersheba's Elyaniv Barda (right) and Hapoel Tel Aviv's Shay Abutbul (left)..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After essentially conceding defeat in the Premier League title race, Hapoel Beersheba will entertain Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday night aiming to edge closer to officially securing the runner-up position, as well as hoping to gather momentum ahead of the State Cup semifinals.
Beersheba coach Elisha Levy claimed his side no longer has a realistic chance of overtaking league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv after falling eight points behind the defending champion following Monday’s 2-0 defeat at Bloomfield Stadium.
With a 12-point gap over third-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona, and with just eight more matches to be played until the end of the season, Beersheba looks to have second place and Europa League qualification already all but wrapped up. Therefore, the team’s focus in the final weeks of the season will be on the cup, with Beersheba just two wins away from lifting its first title since 1997.
Levy’s men face Kiryat Shmona in the cup semis on April 16 and captain Elyaniv Barda wants to enter that showdown on the back of two home wins, with Beersheba to host Kiryat Shmona in league action next Saturday following Hapoel’s visit.
“We want to wrap-up second place as soon as possible,” Barda said on Thursday.
“We have put the match against Maccabi behind us and are focused on taking the points against Hapoel. I can’t deny that we are already thinking about the cup, but we want to close in on securing second place in the next two weeks so that we will enter the semis with a clear head.”
Despite being mathematically well within reach of Maccabi, coach Levy insisted on Thursday that there is no longer any point in discussing Beersheba’s title hopes.
“I said before the match that if we want to remain in the title race we will have to beat Maccabi and as we failed to do so there is no point in talking about it,” explained Levy.
“I hope that the defeat to Maccabi doesn’t affect the rest of our season. We were disappointed not only with the result, but also with the way we performed.
Nevertheless, I think this club is strong enough to overcome this disappointment and look ahead to our remaining goals, starting with the match against Hapoel.”
Beersheba beat Hapoel in both previous meetings this season, but Tel Aviv thrashed Maccabi Haifa 4-0 last week to move within one point of the Greens in fourth place, which will be sufficient for Europa League qualification assuming either Beersheba or Kiryat Shmona win the cup as well as finish in the top three.
Haifa hopes to bounce back from last week’s humbling at Bloomfield when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday.
Two crucial head-to-head showdowns in the battle against relegation will take place on Saturday, with rock-bottom Hapoel Ramat Hasharon (23 points) hosting Hapoel Ra’anana (27) and Maccabi Petah Tikva (23) playing Hapoel Acre (28).
Bnei Yehuda (23) welcomes Beitar Jerusalem to Bloomfield on Sunday.
Also Saturday, Ashdod SC hosts Hapoel Haifa, while Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Kiryat Shmona on Monday night.