Dramatic final slate before league is split

Beitar, Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod all hoping to claim final top-6 spot; Mac TA secure in first.

Maccabi Haifa's Yaniv Katan 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa's Yaniv Katan 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The sixth and final ticket to the Premier League championship playoffs will be decided in the last weekend of the regular season, with three teams fighting for a berth that will determine how their campaigns will be remembered.
The league will be split into two sections after each team completes their full schedule this weekend, with the top six sides to play each other twice more to decide the champion, while the bottom eight teams will play each other once more to determine the relegation battle.
By the end of this weekend, each PL club will have played every local opponent twice.
Hapoel Ramat Hasharon currently sits in sixth place, one point ahead of Beitar Jerusalem and two in front of Ashdod SC. A victory at the struggling Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday will clinch Ramat Hasharon’s place in the championship playoffs, but Benny Tabak’s team has picked up just a single point over its past four matches, failing to score a goal.
Beersheba lost any hope of finishing the regular season in the top six following last week’s 1-0 defeat to Bnei Yehuda, but it is also desperate for the points, holding just a five-point gap from the relegation zone.
Should Ramat Hasharon fail to win on Saturday, Beitar Jerusalem will be able to leapfrog into sixth place on Sunday. However, Beitar visits rampant league leader Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium, with the yellowand- blue boasting a 10-point gap at the top and a six-match winning streak.
Nevertheless, Beitar will not be lacking in self-belief having beaten Maccabi 2-0 at Bloomfield in the last 16 of the State Cup just last week.
Beitar could also overtake Ramat Hasharon with a draw against Maccabi, should Tabak’s side lose in Beersheba.
However, that would open the door for Ashdod, which hosts Bnei Yehuda on Monday night. Should both Ramat Hasharon and Beitar fail to win, Ashdod, which has won just one of its past 14 matches, will be able to book a playoff berth by beating Bnei Yehuda.
With Maccabi Tel Aviv not playing until Sunday, Maccabi Haifa will be hoping to put the yellow-and-blue under a little pressure by beating Maccabi Netanya on Saturday to close within seven points of the summit.
Haifa dropped two important points in the title race after only managing a 1-1 draw in the derby against Hapoel on Monday, but coach Arik Benado is adamant his team will continue to fight until the final whistle of the season.
“A 10-point gap is significant, but we will not give up,” Benado said on Thursday. “We will fight hard to remain as close as possible to Maccabi.
The match against Netanya is dangerous as they tend to excel against the stronger teams.
“We want to get back into the title race and we will not allow a single result to dampen our spirits.”
Netanya is just two points off the relegation zone despite losing just once in its past nine games. Tal Banin’s men have recorded five draws over that stretch, including in their past three matches.
Hapoel Haifa hosts Hapoel Ramat Gan in a six-point relegation battle on Saturday, with the former languishing in the relegation zone and Ramat Gan ahead of it only on goal difference.
Despite remaining in last place, Hapoel Acre resurrected its hopes of survival by winning two of its past three matches to close within two points of safety.
Acre hosts third-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday.
A slip-up by Tel Aviv could see it drop to fourth place should Ironi Kiryat Shmona defeat Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday.