Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa remain neck-and-neck

Heading into final round of regular season, battle for championship playoff spots tight as ever

 BEITAR JERUSALEM (in yellow) and Hapoel Kfar Saba played an entertaining match on Sunday night at Teddy Stadium, with hosts earning a dramatic 2-1 victory to remain in contention for a championship playoff berth. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
BEITAR JERUSALEM (in yellow) and Hapoel Kfar Saba played an entertaining match on Sunday night at Teddy Stadium, with hosts earning a dramatic 2-1 victory to remain in contention for a championship playoff berth.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
 There is plenty of intrigue on the local pitches as the Israel Premier League heads towards the final gameday of the regular season, with fans finally being allowed back in the stands for the first time in a year since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The championship race will see Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa battling it out for the title, while a number of other championship playoff spots will be up for grabs next weekend.
Along with the yellow-and-blue and the Greens, Ashdod SC has also punched its ticket to the playoffs while three of the following five clubs – Maccabi Petah Tikva, Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Maccabi Netanya, Hapoel Beersheba and Beitar Jerusalem – will also enter the final stage of the season searching for a chance to play in a European competition next season.
This past weekend, Maccabi Tel Aviv blanked Kiryat Shmona 2-0 in the northern capital to remain at the top of the table.
Dor Peretz opened the scoring in the 31st minute when he stole the ball in the midfield, played a give-and-go with Eyal Golasa and then beat Dziugas Bartkus to give Patrick van Leeuwen’s squad a 1-0 lead.
Kobi Refuah’s side was reduced to 10 men just a few minutes later when Yoav Hofmayster was issued his second yellow card. Matan Hozez took advantage of the situation with an 82nd-minute penalty after being hauled down in the box by Dor Elo to seal the deal and allow the yellow-and-blue to take the points.
“This was an important win,” said van Leeuwen following the victory. “We prepared for this game just as we do for every match and we wanted to win. We aren’t looking at the table as it’s not over yet and right now it’s not that important. We want to continue this way and we want to win every game, that’s our goal.”
Refuah lauded his team’s effort in a losing cause.
“Credit to the players for their hard work with only 10 men,” said Refuah. “As for the playoffs, we will be ready to face Hapoel Kfar Saba with one game left in the regular season.”
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa kept pace with Maccabi Tel Aviv as it defeated Bnei Yehuda 2-0 thanks to a pair of second-half goals to remain one point behind the yellow-and-blue.
Neta Lavi broke the goalless deadlock in the 53rd minute when he headed in a brilliant Omer Atzily cross while Sun Menachem put in an Atzily corner 10 minutes later to give Haifa the three points.
“This was exciting,” said Greens’ coach Barak Bachar. “To play in front of 1,500 fans felt like 30,000 after getting so used to such a quiet atmosphere; it was great. Anytime you play against a team like Bnei Yehuda, which is battling for its life, it will never be an easy game. But we controlled the pace of play and had a couple of very good chances. I am happy that we have continued to improve.”
Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abukasis lamented the situation his club is in.
“It doesn’t look good, especially when you can see the difference in the levels between us and Maccabi Haifa’s,” stated Abukasis. “We played well in the first half, but Haifa is a quality team and we didn’t play well in the second half and came in complacent and tired from our game last week.”
Elsewhere, Beitar Jerusalem snatched a 2-1 win over Hapoel Kfar Saba as David Dego scored a late winner to keep the capital city squad in the running for a championship playoff spot.
Timoti Muzie gave Elisha Levy’s team a quick 1-0 lead in the sixth minute, but Eliran Atar drew Beitar even just ahead of the halftime break thanks to a 43rd-minute penalty kick.
Yarden Shua and Dego played give-and-go in the 84th minute as the latter beat a helpless Matan Zalmanovich to keep Beitar’s hopes alive heading into a duel with Ashdod next weekend.
“We needed this win and it’s a sweet one that came a bit late, but still gives us a chance to make it into the playoffs,” said Beitar coach Slobodan Drapic. “We played well and you could see how much the players wanted this for the fans who were in the stands. With them there, we could have earned many more points compared to what we have collected up until now.”
Also, Hapoel Hadera slipped by Maccabi Netanya 1-0 as Menachem Koretzky’s squad continued to climb the table and move further away from the relegation zone.
Liran Rotman continues to score for Hadera after coming on loan from Beitar Jerusalem as he took a brilliant Gustavo Marmentini through ball to score the 42nd-minute.
After the defeat, Raymond Atteveld’s squad plays Maccabi Haifa as it will attempt to make it into the championship playoffs.
“All the credit goes to the players,” said a content Koretzky. “They went through a tough week or so, but they gave it their all. I’m proud of them and there is a tremendous amount of potential here. We were able to take the win against a very good team, but we still need to work hard and continue to improve.”
Hapoel Haifa hosted Ashdod to a 2-2 draw at Sammy Ofer Stadium in an entertaining matchup that saw Ashdod clinch a playoff berth while Haifa will feature in the relegation playoffs for the balance of the campaign.
Fahad Bayo and Dean David gave Ran Ben Shimon’s team a quick 2-0 lead after just 15 minutes, but Niso Kapilto pulled a goal back in the 28th minute to keep the Carmel Reds in the game.
Just as Ashdod looked to have earned the three points, Hanan Maman lofted a corner kick into the box that Itay Boganim nodded behind Yoav Gerafi to earn his side the draw.
Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Petah Tikva played to a goalless draw at the Moshava Stadium to split the points.
Beersheba will play Bnei Yehuda while Petah Tikva will face Bnei Sakhnin on the last match day as both squads will look to earn a trip to the championship playoffs.
Bnei Sakhnin downed Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium to snatch the three points in the relegation battle and is now level with the Reds on 26 points.
Ismaeel Ryan sent a pinpoint perfect corner kick to Ihab Ganayem, who headed home the lone marker of the game in the 22nd minute.
To seal Hapoel’s fate, Raz Shlomo was sent off in the 57th minute with his second yellow card of the game leaving the 1,500 home fans who attended their first match in over a year disappointed with the final result.