PREVIEW: Hapoel Tel Aviv fighting to stay in top tier
As season winds down, three teams in relegation range • Sakhnin hosts Mac Haifa, Beersheba visits Jerusalem.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s battle against relegation from the Premier League reaches its climax on Saturday.After a tumultuous season during which it was deducted nine points for going into administration, exchanged owners and guided by three different head coaches, Hapoel enters its final match of the campaign with its fate out of its hands.Hapoel, which has won eight championships and 10 State Cups in its illustrious history, sits in 13th place out of 14 teams, with the bottom two to be demoted to the National League.Tel Aviv has one point fewer than Hapoel Ashkelon and is ahead of rock-bottom Hapoel Kfar Saba only on goal difference (-5 to -18).A home win for Ashkelon against Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday will send Tel Aviv to the second division for the first time after 27 years and just the second time in club history, regardless of the result it records at Hapoel Ra’anana.Tel Aviv will survive should it win and Ashkelon fails to do so. Tel Aviv will also stay up should it register a draw combined with an Ashkelon loss and a Kfar Saba draw or defeat against Hapoel Haifa.Kfar Saba will only maintain its Premier League status if it wins and both Asheklon and Hapoel don’t pick up all three points.AdvertisementTel Aviv had a chance to climb out of the relegation zone last week, but could only manage a goalless deadlock against Ashkelon in a match which was marred by ugly scenes.The ill-tempered showdown boiled over after the final whistle, with a brawl between players and staff from Hapoel and police breaking out on the pitch. Hapoel striker Toto Tamuz was led off the pitch in handcuffs after clashing with police and security guards, and he faced further questioning by police during the week.Coach Menahem Koretzki, who replaced Guy Luzon in January after the Nisanov group took over the club, tried to instill belief in his players during the week.“We will not lose hope until the final whistle. We will continue to play until the very end,” said Koretzki.Ashkelon has won just three of 15 home matches this season, but is facing a Kiryat Shmona side which lost interest weeks ago, losing five of its last seven games, including 4-1 to Kfar Saba last Saturday.“We are facing a match which will decide the fate of this club,” said Ashkelon coach Yuval Naim.Kfar Saba seemed doomed just two weeks ago, stranded in last place, six points from safety. But two wins in a row have kept it alive in the fight for survival entering its final match at Hapoel Haifa.“We know we have to win to have a chance to stay up so that is our only focus,” said coach Felix Naim, who replaced Eli Cohen last month.Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda and Ashdod SC wrap up their campaigns with a meaningless encounter.In the championship playoffs, where teams have two more matches to play, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Maccabi Haifa.All that is left to play for in the championship playoffs is third place, which leads to automatic qualification for the Europa League.Beitar Jerusalem, which holds a fourpoint gap over Maccabi Petah Tikva in the fight for third, hosts champion Hapoel Beersheba on Monday, while Petah Tikva welcomes Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.Fourth place will also result in a berth in the Europa League qualifiers next season should Maccabi Tel Aviv defeat Bnei Yehuda in the State Cup final later this month.
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