League splits for title, relegation battles

Starting from this weekend, the league will be split into two sections.

Beitar Jerusalem striker Itay Shechter. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Beitar Jerusalem striker Itay Shechter.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
While it awaits for its appeal on a two-point deduction for racist chants to be heard, Beitar Jerusalem aims to make up lost ground when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva in their Premier League championship playoff opener on Saturday.
Starting from this weekend, the league will be split into two sections.
In the championship playoffs, the top six will play each other twice more for a total of 10 matches for every team to decide final positions. In the relegation playoffs, the bottom eight sides face one another one more time for a combined seven games each. The bottom two teams at the end of the season will be demoted to the National League.
Petah Tikva is a clear favorite to finish in third place and qualify for the Europa League next season, holding an eight-point gap over Beitar before it lost two points courtesy of the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court.
The court decided on Wednesday to activate a suspended sentence against the club after it was charged for the racist behavior of its supporters during the State Cup quarterfinal tie against Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Beitar was outraged with the ruling after presenting the court with evidence of the different actions it is taking against such behavior, including the arrest of 11 supporters during last week’s match against Maccabi Haifa.
Jerusalem is hoping the IFA’s High Court will cancel the point deduction, with the owners of Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin lending public support to Beitar’s appeal, despite competing against it in the championship playoffs.
Sakhnin climbed up to fourth, one point ahead of Beitar, following the deduction, with Haifa now only trailing Jerusalem on goal difference.
Fourth place will also be good enough to qualify for Europe next season should either Maccabi Tel Aviv or Beitar Jerusalem win the State Cup and finish in the top three.
“This decision hurts the team and the goal towards which the club is working,” said Beitar coach Sharon Mimer, whose side has lost two straight games.
“Fourth place was taken away from us and we want to get it back.”
Elsewhere Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to keep Hapoel Beersheba under pressure when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin.
Maccabi will move back tied on points with the leader should it register a seventh straight league win. Beersheba hosts Maccabi Haifa on Sunday.
In the relegation playoffs on Saturday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona welcomes Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Ashkelon visits Hapoel Haifa. On Sunday, Hapoel Ra’anana hosts Bnei Yehuda, with Ashdod SC facing Hapoel Kfar Saba on Monday.