Mac Haifa stays within striking distance of 1st

Maccabi Tel Aviv holds four-point lead atop table • Beitar Jerusalem edges Ness Ziona • Beersheba held

MACCABI HAIFA continues to keep the pressure on the Maccabi Tel Aviv 20 games into the Premier League season, in a title race that could go down to the wire. (photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
MACCABI HAIFA continues to keep the pressure on the Maccabi Tel Aviv 20 games into the Premier League season, in a title race that could go down to the wire.
(photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
Maccabi Haifa defeated Bnei Yehuda 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night to keep pace with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israel Premier League title race.

The Greens took the lead in the 27th minute thanks to an own-goal by Matan Baltaxa, and Yuval Ashkenazi doubled the advantage four minutes later as the visitors went into the second half ahead 2-0.
 
Ariel Lazmi pulled goal back in the 82nd minute, but Nikita Rukavytsya scoured a brilliant marker in injury time to give Marko Balbul’s squad the conquest.

“This was a very tough away game, but we scored three goals,” said Balbul following the victory. “After the first 10 minutes we picked up the pace and we were able to score some nice goals. We didn’t play as well in the second half as we were a bit sloppy, but I’m happy that we knew how to take the win and the three points.”

Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped Ashdod SC 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium as the yellow-and-blue continued its fine play and remained in first place.

Omer Atzili gave Vladimir Ivic’s side a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute while Yonatan Cohen added Maccabi’s second goal of the game via a 78th-minute penalty kick to give Maccabi all three points.

“We controlled the game from the beginning until the end,” said Ivic following the contest. “We played better in the second half and we deserved to take the points. We’re working hard together in both sides of the ball and it’s not easy to play against a team that defends so tight.”

In other action, Beitar Jerusalem slipped by Ness Ziona 1-0 at Teddy Stadium as Ofir Kriaf scored a sixth-minute goal to give Roni Levy’s squad the three points.

“We won a very important game which took us another step towards our goal,” said Levy. “There are matches that a winning club must find a way to win even though we were missing some key players and it may not have been a great game to watch. This was one of them.”

Elsewhere, Hapoel Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Kfar Saba 2-1 at the Moshava Stadium as the Reds continued their winning ways under head coach Nir Klinger.

Ben Reichert opened the scoring, with the midfielder nodding home a Luwagga Kizito cross to grab an early 1-0 lead. However, Moti Barshazki pulled Tel Aviv even just eight minutes later as his off-balance attempt trickled behind Greens ’keeper Itamar Israeli.

Right before the break the tide continued to turn towards the Reds as Gershon Koffie and Noam Gamon each were issued red cards, leaving Kfar Saba with just nine men for the balance of the contest.

Maor Bozaglo took advantage of the extra men for Hapoel Tel Aviv as he slammed home a Stefan Spirovski scorcher to give the Reds a 2-1 the victory and three points.

“There is a psychological barrier when a team is playing against only nine players,” explained Klinger. “You’re aware that it’s a tie game and you know that the opponent will be playing very defensively the rest of the way which is hard to break down. But the players calmed down and we were able to take the win.”

Also, Hapoel Haifa hosted Hapoel Ra’anana to an entertaining 2-2 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium.

Yoav Tomer gave the visiting Ra’anana squad a 1-0 lead when his 33rd-minute long-distance attempt went right through ’keeper Jasmin Buric’s legs. Ido Levy doubled the advantage right before halftime as he headed in a corner kick for Niso Avitan’s squad.

But the hosts came storming back in the second half as Guy Mishpati cut the lead in the 61st minute when Ra’anana ’keeper Assaf Tzur couldn’t stop his header, and 10 minutes later Jakub Sylvestr scored the equalizer as the sides split the points.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Haifa coach Haim Silvas. “We didn’t play well in the first half and gave up a pair of goals. But we picked ourselves up and found a way to get back into the game and perhaps had a chance to win it.”
Ra’anana Coach Niso Avitan also gave his thoughts on the game.

“I believe that we can only blame ourselves. We gave up a poor goal from a set piece and threw away two points.”

Hapoel Beersheba and Ironi Kiryat Shmona played to a goalless draw in the northern capital. The referee stopped the game in the 74th minute for five minutes due to racist chants by Beersheba fans towards Kiryat Shmona players Marcus Diniz and James Adeniyi.
 
“I have some uneasy feelings,” said Kobi Refuah, the Kiryat Shmona coach. “We played well and almost scored in the 90th minute, but we will move on. Of course I heard the racist chants, everyone did. It was good that the referee halted the match and that was the correct thing to do. Both players showed strength and said that they could continue to play after the short break.”

Guy Melamed notched a 73rd-minute penalty to hand Maccabi Netanya a 1-0 hard-earned victory over Hapoel Hadera.