Gutman returns as Reds host Sakhnin

Haifa plays Monday; Betar hopes to gather momentum against lowly RG.

Hapoel Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv will welcome back coach Eli Gutman on Saturday, hoping the return of its mentor will help it bounce back from Monday’s shock Premier League defeat against Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
Gutman hasn’t guided Hapoel in over six weeks after suffering a heart attack in the morning of his team’s match against Maccabi Netanya on January 29.
Tel Aviv won four of six league encounters in his absence, including a 4-1 thrashing of Maccabi Haifa, but Gutman’s return comes at the perfect time for the reigning champion after its disappointing performance in the 1- 0 defeat at Teddy.
Hapoel had no answer for Betar’s defensive set up and never came close to equalizing after Samuel Yeboah gave the hosts the lead in the 72nd minute.
“In the last few weeks it seems as if you have lost your patience,” Gutman told his players on Thursday. “We need to return and play our regular game against Sakhnin.”
Tel Aviv’s first defeat in 13 league matches left it two points back of league-leader Maccabi Haifa, but the Reds will expect to return to the top of the standings for at least 48 hours with a win over Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
Maccabi Haifa doesn’t play until Monday night when it visits Hapoel Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Sakhnin has won just once in its past six matches, but it has also only lost twice in that stretch, and climbed out of the relegation zone last week with its second straight draw.
Betar’s victory over Hapoel, its first after five winless matches, released a lot of pressure at the struggling club, but it will mean little if Jerusalem fails to overcome rock-bottom Hapoel Ramat Gan at Winter Stadium on Saturday.
“We have been through a very rough period, but I’m happy we ended it against Hapoel,” Betar midfielder Idan Tal said. “We thought we would be among the top teams this season and we have shown what we are capable of by not losing in our matches against Hapoel and Haifa so far. We will now have to bring the same determination to the games against the teams closer to us in the table.”
Ramat Gan has won just once in 25 matches this season, losing five of its last six contests.
Despite dropping two important points against Hapoel Acre last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv is still only eight points back of first position, a bridgeable gap when you consider that point totals will be halved after 30 matches ahead of the championship playoffs.
However, Moti Ivanir’s players face a stern test on Saturday when they visit Ran Ben-Shimon’s Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Kiryat Shmona is in fourth place, eight points behind the yellow-andblue, but has faltered in recent weeks, winning just once in its last five matches.
“Unfortunately, we lost control of last week’s match, but I believe things will change,” Ivanir said. “We know we are playing a very good side in Kiryat Shmona, but we need to think like a big team and believe we should win every match we play.”
Hapoel Beersheba coach Nir Klinger will be hoping to prove he deserved the contract extension he was given this week when his team visits the sorry Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday.
Some Beersheba fans were calling for Klinger’s head in recent weeks, with the team losing three of its last four matches, failing to score a goal in its past three.
However, club owner Alona Barkat responded to the calls from the crowd by extending Klinger’s contract until the end of next season, but even she will surely not accept anything but a victory over Ashkelon, which has lost six straight contests by a combined 2- 15 goal difference.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts Ashdod SC and Maccabi Petah Tikva visits Hapoel Acre, with Bnei Yehuda welcoming Maccabi Netanya on Sunday.