Hap TA looks to stop free-fall vs Bnei Yehuda

The one-time favorites need win after losing two straight matches and dropping to 3rd place.

Hapoel Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Less than two weeks ago, Hapoel Tel Aviv was the firm favorite to claim the Premier League title.
Two 1-0 losses later, and Hapoel finds itself on the cusp of a crisis, dropping to third place in the standings, five points back of league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Hapoel looked set to surge ahead in the title race after recording convincing victories against both arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv and reigning-champion Maccabi Haifa.
However, Dror Kashtan’s team returned to its erratic ways in recent weeks, failing to hit top form in defeats at Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Kashtan returned to guide the team on Wednesday after missing the previous week following the death of his brother. He made his presence felt, shaking the Hodorov training ground with his trademark screams.
Kashtan knows Hapoel can’t afford to fail to pick up all three points when it hosts Bnei Yehuda on Saturday, and despite Tel Aviv’s recent struggles, he will be confident a return to Bloomfield Stadium will also result in a return to winning ways.
Hapoel is unbeaten at home this season, winning six and drawing two of eight matches with a combined goal difference of 21-1.
However, Bnei Yehuda could prove to be tough to crack on Saturday, with Yossi Abuksis’s team wining two straight matches after going seven games without a victory.
Kiryat Shmona will keep a close eye on happenings at Bloomfield, but It will first be looking to take care of its own business when its visits Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.
Ran Ben-Shimon’s side has won nine of its past 10 matches, including its last five on the road.
Netanya was neck and neck with Kiryat Shmona at the start of the season, but Reuven Atar’s team has lost its way in the past couple of months, winning just once in its last seven games.
Netanya was hopeless in Monday’s 2- 1 defeat at Maccabi Haifa, but Atar’s men handed Kiryat Shmona its only defeat of the league season so far and a visit by the high-flying northerners might just be what Netanya’s boys need to get their adrenaline flowing.
Atar’s first task will be to shore up his side’s defensive play, with Netanya the only team in the league to have conceded at least one goal in each of its 16 matches to date.
Maccabi Haifa was fortunate enough to meet the plummeting Netanya just when matters threatened to spiral out of control at Kiryat Eliezer, with coach Elisha Levy breathing a huge sigh of relief after the 2-1 victory.
Two straight league defeats – to Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Haifa – followed by a Europa League exit, had hundreds of Haifa fans calling for Levy’s head.
But things have settled slightly following the win over Netanya and a visit to Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday presents the Greens with another opportunity for a relatively easy three points.
Also Saturday, the resurgent Hapoel Beersheba goes for its fourth straight win when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Petah Tikva visits Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Rishon Lezion welcomes Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
As if matters weren’t bad enough at Betar Jerusalem, the club from the capital was punished by the Israel Football Association disciplinary court on Wednesday to play its next two home matches in front of empty stands following its fans’ unruliness in the defeat to Bnei Yehuda.
Betar has lost four of five games, winning only once in its past 12 matches, and it faces what is an extremely tricky tie even in the best of times when it visits Hapoel Acre on Sunday.
The court’s ruling is expected to cost the financially-striken Betar over NIS 1 million in lost revenue and Jerusalem is praying its appeal will be accepted hours before it takes the field against Acre.
Also Sunday, second-placed Ashdod SC will have a chance to make a statement when it hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv.