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Elyaniv Barda had a perfect end to the year with another brilliant performance.
Hapoel Tel Aviv's swift forward produced his best match of the Premier League season so far, scoring four goals in a dramatic 4-3 win over Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan.
Tel Aviv's top goalscorer completed his hat-trick within 26 minutes, displaying moves of sheer genius which repeatedly exposed Ramat Gan's unorganized rearguard.
Tel Aviv is now third in the standings with 24 points, tied with Maccabi Petah Tikva and Maccabi Haifa, but with a better goal difference.
"I'm happy we scored four goals," Barda said after the game. "Ramat Gan is a very defensive team, which has not conceded many goals lately. Our coach wants us to attack, but even a 1-0 win would have satisfied him today. This is our first win of the month and I think it's still too early to be talking about the championship."
Meanwhile, Ashdod SC put pressure on Betar Jerusalem with a 3-2 victory at Hapoel Petah Tikva. Ashdod is in first place at least until Betar faces Hapoel Kfar Saba on Sunday night in the Matchday 14 finale.
Reigning champion Maccabi Haifa managed a tight 1-0 win over Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Bnei Yehuda and Maccabi Herzliya settled for a goalless draw.
Eli Ohana and Hapoel Kfar Saba arrive at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium on a five-game unbeaten streak. The yellow-and-black will have to collect all three points in order to re-take first place.
Fabrice Fernandes is not expected to play for Betar after being suspended by the club for unsportsmanlike behavior last week. The Frenchman is expected to be released in the coming weeks after failing to build a healthy relationship with coach Yossi Mizrahi.
Hakoah Amidar R-G 3, Hapoel Tel Aviv 4
Ramat Gan's Avi Tikva stunned the reds in the third minute when he spotted Tel Aviv goalkeeper Shavit Elimelech out of position. The veteran winger, who was 30 meters away from goal, sent a looping kick which found the back of the net.
Barda had other plans. The prolific striker first completed a hat-trick (9, 23, 35) to give his team a comfortable lead.
After Tikva pulled one back in the 42nd minute with a fierce drive from outside the box, Barda scored his fourth goal of the game and eighth of the season in the 59th minute, taking full advantage of a Ramat Gan defensive blunder.
Shuki Nagar retaliated with a long range free-kick in the 79th minute, but the visitors held on to win all three points.
Maccabi Haifa 1, Maccabi Petah Tikva 0
The "Luzons" were without veteran defender Morad Megamadov, who was suffering from flu-like conditions.
Haifa took full advantage of the visitors' hapless defense and struck in the eighth minute of the game. Yaniv Katan received the ball in the penalty area and then set up Roberto Colautti, who closed in on the goal and provided the clean finish.
Omer Golan committed a brutal foul on Alon Harazi in the 76th minute and was sent off, leaving Petah Tikva with 10 players.
Haifa had numerous chances to increase its lead, but Ohad Cohen repeatedly denied the hosts with mesmerizing saves.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 0,Maccabi Netanya 0
Avi Nimni failed to pass his fitness test prior to the game and was left out of Tel Aviv's starting lineup.
Yossi Shivkhon replaced the captain in the opening 11, but failed to provide the spark in midfield and break the deadlock.
"I'm happy with my team's overall effort," Netanya coach Eli Guttman said after the lackluster draw. "We are going through tough times, with numerous disciplinary problems amongst our ranks. We came out as a team today and fought hard for this point."
Hapoel Petah Tikva 2,Ashdod SC 3
Shai Holtzman gave Ashdod the early lead in the 13th minute, with a trademark finish from inside the box. Petah Tikva's Mahran Abu Ria doubled Ashdod's lead in the last minute of the first half, after scoring a miserable own goal.
Ashdod was awarded a penalty in the 61st minute, which Holtzman converted with ease. Idan Srur (78) and Moti Kakoon (82) spurred a late Petah Tikva comeback but the visitors held on.
Maccabi Herzliya 0,Bnei Yehuda 0
Only 800 spectators showed up at Herzliya Stadium, where the two struggling teams squared off for a typical bottom-of-the-table clash.
Both coaches implemented cautious and defensive tactics, which resulted in a goalless draw.
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