Greens dominate Reds to go back top

Mac TA edges closer to securing Europa League berth; Ramat Gan clinches relegation.

Maccabi Haifa_311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa_311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
A year of frustration for Maccabi Haifa finally came to an end on Saturday night when the Greens beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium to climb above the reigning-champion to the top of the Premier League standings once again.
After being beaten to the title last season following a 1-0 home loss to Hapoel and losing to Tel Aviv twice in the current campaign, including a 4-1 thrashing two months ago, Haifa finally got the upper hand over its fiercest rival of recent years.
Haifa dominated Hapoel in every facet of Saturday’s contest, taking the lead in the 30th minute through Yaniv Katan’s goal before putting the match beyond Tel Aviv’s reach in the 66th minute thanks to Vladimir Dvalishvili’s strike.
The victory takes Haifa back to first place, two points above Hapoel, a week after seeing its seven-point gap over the Reds turn into a one-point deficit following the halving of point totals coupled with a draw and a defeat in two consecutive league matches against Maccabi Netanya.
However, Haifa coach Elisha Levy, whose team visits Maccabi Tel Aviv next Saturday, knows the fight for the championship is far from over.
“We took the monkey off our backs with this win,” Levy said. “Hapoel beat us in the last three league matches and we had to overcome a mental barrier.
We were determined from the start and we pressured Tel Aviv and disrupted their famous ball movement.
“We recorded a very important victory and moved back into first place, but this promises us nothing and we still have plenty of work to do in the final three matches of the season.”
Hapoel midfielder Gili Vermut had no excuses for his team’s performance.
“They were undoubtedly the better team and deserved to win,” Vermut said. “We allowed them to pressure us and create chances. Haifa has taken a big step towards the championship, but there are still three more matches to be played and we will fight until the very end.”
Hapoel got off to a promising start, but it was Haifa which registered the first real chance of the match.
Tomer Hemed’s shot from the edge of the area in the eighth minute was saved by Vincent Enyeama, with the striker threatening Tel Aviv’s goal once more just two minutes later, sending his attempt just wide.
The hosts continued to push forward and should have really taken the lead in the 13th minute.
Lior Rafaelov did all the hard work by carving through the Hapoel defense, but Dvalishvili released a poor shot despite having only Enyeama to beat from the center of the box.
Haifa dominated the proceedings, looking far hungrier for the points, and got its just reward in the 30th minute.
A swift team move down the left flank ended with Rafaelov passing the ball for Katan, who coolly slotted in his first league goal since December.
The hosts never lost control after that and clinched the win in the 66th minute.
Katan’s shot from 20 meters out came off the crossbar, but Dvalishvili was first to the rebound and ensured the Greens returned to first position.
“We showed what we are capable of with our backs against the wall,” Katan said. “We played superbly, but we haven’t done anything yet. We can celebrate tonight, but we have to get back to work tomorrow and win our final three matches to claim the championship.”
Also in championship playoffs, Maccabi Tel Aviv took another important step towards clinching third-place and a Europa League berth by defeating Bnei Yehuda 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium.
Kestutis Ivanskevicius gave Bnei Yehuda the lead in the 27th minute, but Maor Buzaglo (42, 62) turned the match on its head before Eliran Atar (64) wrapped up the win.
Maccabi Netanya and Ironi Kiryat Shmona shared the points on Saturday after an entertaining 3-3 draw.
Wiyam Amashe scored the opener for Kiryat Shmona after less than 30 seconds, but just a minute later Sergy Tretyak equalized for the hosts before completing a Netanya comeback in the 31st minute.
Amashe (45) tied the score on the brink of halftime and Ofir Hemo put the visitors in front in the 59th minute, only for Hen Ezra to ensure the match ended in a stalemate 10 minutes from time.
Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem effectively secured itself another season of top-flight soccer, beating Hapoel Petah Tikva 3-0 at Teddy Stadium for its fifth straight home win.
Aviram Bruchian netted a brace for Betar (22, 34), with Steven Cohen (83) completing the victory against Petah Tikva, which is now just one point ahead of Bnei Sakhnin and 14th position that leads to a relegation playoff tie against a National League opponent.
Sakhnin defeated Ashdod SC 1-0 on Saturday thanks to Kostadin Hazurov’s 76th-minute winner.
Hapoel Ramat Gan lost all hope of survival on Saturday despite defeating Hapoel Ashkelon 2-0.
Carlos Chacana (19) and Shahar Siman-Tov (72) scored for Ramat Gan, which snapped its record 27-match winless streak, but will still be relegated at the end of the season.
In the mid-table playoffs, Maccabi Petah Tikva beat Hapoel Haifa 2-0 through goals from Tal Ben-Haim (8) and Omer Damari (90), while Hapoel Acre defeated Hapoel Beersheba 3-2 on the road.