Hapoel Haifa continued its remarkable start to the season with yet another win on Saturday, while Beitar Jerusalem kept pace with the leader after overcoming Hapoel Ashkelon and the controversial absence of Idan Vered.Haifa improved to 23 points from a possible 27 with a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana, extending its unbeaten streak to start of the season to nine matches. Roslan Barsky gave Haifa the lead within the first five minutes and there was only going to be one winner after Maxim Plakuschenko doubled the hosts’ advantage 10 minutes from the halftime interval.“This was our third straight match which we entered as favorites and we won again, which shows me that our players understand our current position,” said Haifa coach Nir Klinger, whose team has won its past four games by a combined goal difference of 8-0.“I’ve been asked since our third match of the season about how long this can last, but we are just continuing to remain humble and work hard.”Beitar made it three wins in a row with a 2-0 triumph over Ashkelon at Teddy Stadium.Itay Shechter’s goal in the fifth minute settled Jerusalem’s nerves and Hen Ezra gave the hosts a comfortable cushion at the break with his strike in the 38th minute.Ashkelon ended the match with nine men following the sending offs of Oz Raly nine minutes from time and Ramzi Sfuri in stoppage time. Despite remaining within three points of first place, one of the main talking points at Teddy on Saturday was the absence of star midfielder Vered. The 28-year-old missed training earlier last week as he was ill, but was expected to start once more after taking part in Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions. However, he wasn’t even named in the squad for Saturday’s match, even though he claimed he is completely fit.Vered and Beitar are currently negotiating a contract extension and according to some reports he was dropped due to a stalemate in the talks.“Vered didn’t train all week apart from Thursday and Friday and the medical staff decided that he was unfit for the match,” said Beitar coach Benny Ben-Zaken, refusing to answer whether he received orders from the club’s management to drop Vered. “We are pleased with the win, but we didn’t play well enough.”Pressure on Maccabi Haifa coach Guy Luzon continued to build on Saturday, with the Greens suffering a 1-0 loss at Ironi Kiryat Shmona.Ahmed Abed scored the only goal of the match in the 69th minute.Haifa dropped to 11th place in the standings with its fourth loss of the campaign and has won only three of nine matches to date.“I’m really frustrated and disappointed,” said Luzon. “They hit us on the break while we missed golden scoring opportunities.I’m certain that I can lift the team out of this situation.” Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Netanya drew 0-0, with Netanya playing with 10 men from the 35th minute after the sending off of ’keeper Danny Amos.Title favorites Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv, which each have 14 points with the former playing one match fewer, will be in action on Sunday. After beating the yellow-and-blue 2-1 last week despite playing with 10 men from the 21st minute, Beersheba visits Ashdod SC.Maccabi is aiming to recover from the dejecting loss at Turner Stadium when it hosts rock-bottom Hapoel Acre, which sacked coach Shlomi Dora last week.“We will be very well prepared especially after the past week,” said Maccabi defender Yuval Spungin. “Any time you play a team that just made a major change, you always need to be careful. We have to be ready and not come into the contest complacent.”On Monday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Bnei Yehuda.