Maccabi TA back on top after Zahavi scores again

Coachless yellow-and-blue defeats Ra’anana 2-0 to keep pressure on Beersheba, Beitar beats Bnei Yehuda.

Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv star Eran Zahavi
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Eran Zahavi began the new year the way he ended the last, finding the back of the net once more on Saturday to help Maccabi Tel Aviv return to the summit of the Premier League standings with a 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana.
Zahavi, who scored 46 goals overall in 2015, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo (61), Leo Messi (52), Luis Suarez (48) and Robert Lewandowski (47), netted his 19th league goal in 17 matches in the 22nd minute, making the most of Snir Shuker’s wayward pass. Avi Rikan secured all three points in the 59th minute.
Maccabi avenged one of only three defeats it has suffered this season, with the three-time reigning champion dropping to a shock 2-1 loss to Ra’anana for its first league defeat of the season three months ago following Shuker’s 90th-minute winner.
Maccabi, which is back in first place for at least 48 hours, with leader Hapoel Beersheba visiting Maccabi Haifa on Monday night, was guided on Saturday by Slavisa Jokanovic’s Spanish assistant Javi Periera. Jokanovic left for Fulham of the English Championship following last week’s 5-0 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona, and Maccabi has yet to announce the identity of his replacement, although it is expected to do so this week.
“I think the team is still growing up,” said Periera, who will join Jokanovic in England this week. “You saw only 50 percent of its ability. Beersheba is a good team, but this is just the start of the second round of action. I think Maccabi needs some more players to help Eran Zahavi.”
Beitar Jerusalem is still struggling to find its top form, but it nevertheless won once more on Saturday night, beating Bnei Yehuda 1-0 at Teddy Stadium to maintain its hold on third place.
Omer Atzili scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot in the 24th minute, meaning Beitar has lost just one of its past 10 games.
“This was a very important match for us,” said Beitar coach Slobodan Drapic.
“We didn’t train properly this week and it was very important for us to win this match. I know we are still not playing well and we need to play better, but what was important today was that we took the three points.”
Maccabi Netanya’s hopes of survival suffered another blow on Saturday following a 3-0 loss at Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Bruno (36) and Ofir Mizrahi (50, 83) scored for the hosts, extending Netanya’s winless streak to 11 matches during which it has netted a mere three goals.
Rock-bottom Netanya has yet to win in seven matches under coach Reuven Atar, who replaced Shlomi Dora.
Hapoel Acre and Bnei Sakhnin drew 2-2 on Saturday, picking up a point that does them little good. Georginho (67) and Weeam Amasha (77) gave Sakhnin the lead after Moshe Mishaelof (13) had scored the opener for Acre. However, Zion Zemah’s penalty three minutes from time ensured the spoils would be shared.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva beat Hapoel Kfar Saba 2-0 thanks to goals from Guy Melamed (4) and Mohammed Kalibat (69).
On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Haifa.