Toto Tamuz grabbed a dramatic injury-time winner as Betar Jerusalem closed the gap on Maccabi Tel Aviv in the battle for third place with a 2-1 win at Ashdod on Saturday night.
Tel Aviv could only manage a goalless bore draw against Bnei Yahuda in the day’s other top-six playoff match, and Avi Nimni’s men are now just four points above the team from the capital.
Maccabi Haifa hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday night in a match which could well decide the identity of this season's champion.
Meanwhile, things are getting remarkably tight at the bottom, where basement boys Ahi Nazareth and Hapoel Ra’anana both won, meaning that just four points separate all six teams in the relegation playoffs ahead of Hapoel Haifa’s match at Hapoel Ramat Gan on Sunday.
John Gregory’s Nazareth beat Hapoel Petah Tikva 3-0 at home courtesy of goals by Tomer Hemed, Yaniv Luzon and Luhav Kiyal, although the away side wasn’t helped by Ibrahim Basit’s 35th-minute sending off for a rash challenge on Mark Gorman.
Ra’anana had an even better evening, hammering Hapoel Acre 4-0, thanks to strikes by Avi Knafo, Avi Sofer and Dudu Biton, and an Itzik Cohen own goal.
In the mid-table playoffs, meanwhile, Sakhnin sustained its stunning form with a 1-0 win at home to Beersheba, while Maccabi Petah Tikva beat Maccabi Netanya 3-1.
Ashdod SC 1, Betar Jerusalem 2
One couldn’t help but agree with Yossi Mizrahi’s post-match assessment about soccer being a “very cruel sport” after his Ashdod side somehow got nothing from Saturday night’s match, despite playing Betar off the park.
Matan Ohayon sliced wide in the opening minutes in what was a strong start by the hosts, but Betar took the lead against the run of play on 21 minutes.
Amit Ben-Shushan broke into the area, and after
getting a vital touch beyond Ohayon, was sent flying by the Ashdod midfielder. Ben-Shushan got up, dusted himself down and stepped up to convert the penalty himself, albeit via Dragan Stojkic’s leg and the crossbar.
Ariel Harush made a magnificent save eight
minutes before the break to keep the visitors in
front, turning Dimitar Makriev’s header around the post after the Bulgarian rose to meet Moshe Ohayon’s free-kick.
Ashdod got the equalizer it deserved just after the interval – and it was some goal, too.
Idan Sade collected a throw-in and poked it though to Idan Shriki, who finished with finesse, flicking the ball first-time into the top corner beyond the flailing arms of Harush.
The away side should have gone back in front when Tamuz escaped the attentions of the Ashdod backline after a bad clearance from Stojkic, but the Bosnian ’keeper made up for his blunder by beating out the Betar striker’s shot.
Ashdod was playing some glorious soccer though, and Uruguayan Cristian Gonzalez nearly caught Harush out with an audacious effort from the half-way line, the ball sailing inches over the bar.
Ben-Shushan’s speculative effort was then palmed out by Stojkic, while Nir Nachum’s low cross fizzed across the face of goal at the other end in the closing stages.
Then came Tamuz’s heroics, as he capitalized on Gonzalez’s error after Idan Tal’s whipped cross and bundled the ball over the line. Tamuz put a damper on his moment by foolishly picking up a second yellow card for removing his shirt in celebration, but that couldn’t wipe the smile off the face of the fortunate coach David Amsalem, who hailed his players for their “fight” and “desire.”Bnei Yehuda 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 0
With both sides vying for a place in next season’s Europa League, one could have been forgiven for expecting a slightly more entertaining spectacle at Bloomfield.
But judging by Saturday afternoon’s ineptitude and lack of spirit by both sets of players, it’s hard to believe that European qualification is at all a concern for these two Tel Aviv teams.
Omri Afek headed tamely wide from Eliran Atar’s cross early on, while
at the other end, Guillermo Israelevich shot over after being teed up
by Maor Buzaglo.
George Imses should then have set up Moshe Biton for what would have
been a golden chance for Bnei Yehuda, but instead of playing a simple
low cross to the striker, he ballooned it high and over the bar.
Maccabi came closest to scoring through Yuval Avidor, whose second-half
lob over the onrushing Dele Aiyenugba dropped agonizingly over the bar.
The chance of the match came eight minutes from time, when Bnei
Yehuda’s Kfir Edri met Moshe Biton’s center, but the midfielder was
foiled by the sprawling Liran Strauber before Nisso Kapiloto hooked the
ball clear from just in front of the goal-line.