Beersheba opens up 4-point lead at the top

Southerners blank Sakhnin at Turner • Hapoel Haifa moves even with Mac TA • Beitar visits Ra’anana

Hapoel Beersheba celebrating (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba celebrating
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba will enter the championship playoffs in pole position after beating Bnei Sakhnin 2-0 at Turner Stadium on Saturday night for its fourth win from the past five matches to secure first place in the standings at the end of the regular season.
The two-time defending champion moved four points clear of Beitar Jerusalem, which visits Hapoel Ra’anana on Sunday, and five ahead of Maccabi Tel Aviv that hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva on Monday.
Hapoel Haifa in fourth place remained within five points of the top after beating Ashdod SC 1-0 earlier Saturday thanks to a stoppage-time own-goal winner.
The match got off to a nightmare start for Beersheba, with Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor walking off the pitch in tears after re-injuring his right knee. Vitor had played in just five league matches for Beersheba this season prior to Saturday, only returning from a three-month absence due to an injury to the same knee last weekend.
Beersheba did at least bounce back quickly, with Marwan Kabha, who joined in the January transfer window, netting his first goal for the team in the 13th minute.
The hosts doubled their advantage in the 59th minute through Czech striker Tomas Pekhart and were always going to cruise to the final whistle after Sakhnin’s Croatian midfielder Antonio Mrsic was sent off in the 63rd minute for striking Dan Einbinder away from the ball.
Beersheba extended its unbeaten home record to 48 matches, the longest in European soccer. Hapoel’s win means it will also play its first two playoff matches at home.
Barak Bachar’s side will host Bnei Yehuda, which will finish the regular season in sixth place following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Maccabi Netanya, in its first playoff match next weekend and will then welcome the team that will end the regular season in second place. Netanya secured fifth place at the end of the regular season thanks to Ramzi Sfuri’s 16th-minute strike.
Hapoel Haifa is fortunate to still be within striking distance of first place after requiring a 93rd-minute own-goal from Yuval Yakobovitch to defeat Ashdod.
“I’ve been saying all season that my players are really special and I’m running out of words to describe what they are doing,” said Haifa coach Nir Klinger. “We deserved this win and are hoping our title rivals will start dropping points.”
Maccabi Haifa remained eight points off the relegation zone after drawing 0-0 at Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday. Haifa once more failed to win and has just two victories to its name from its past 16 games.
Fortunately for the club that dominated local soccer in the first decade of the 21st century, Ashkelon had lost eight matches in a row prior to Saturday’s goalless deadlock, keeping Haifa comfortably clear of the bottom two.
“We have finally stopped our losing streak and will enter the relegation playoffs with a bit of confidence,” said Ashkelon coach Messay Dego. “I still really believe we will stay up.”
The draw moved Ashkelon within four points of Ashdod.
The bottom eight teams in the standings will play each other one more time for seven more matches each in the relegation playoffs. Elsewhere Sunday, rock-bottom Hapoel Acre plays Ironi Kiryat Shmona.