Hap’s dreams of finishing top all but over

Zhairi, Bnei Yehuda shock Reds 1-0; Betar solves Acre 2-0 at Teddy Stadium.

Hapoel Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s hopes of claiming a second straight Premier League title suffered a significant blow on Saturday night after Liroy Zhairi’s winner five minutes into stoppage time gave Bnei Yehuda a 1-0 victory over the Reds at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel continued its subpar performances of recent weeks and Bnei Yehuda fully deserved to take all three points against the reigning-champion, which has now won just two of its past five matches.
Tel Aviv’s fifth defeat of the season leaves it four points back of first-placed Maccabi Haifa, but the Greens can move seven points clear with one match to go before the start of the championship playoffs when they host Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Monday.
“We dropped important points tonight,” said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, whose team can no longer overtake Haifa ahead of the start of the playoffs, meaning it will visit Elisha Levy’s side in their final meeting of the season on April 30.
“This is a painful and significant home defeat. We didn’t play our soccer tonight. Bnei Yehuda was organized and ready. We didn’t move the ball and didn’t create any chances.”
Bnei Yehuda’s sixth victory in the past eight games puts it on the verge of clinching a top-six finish and qualifying for the championship playoffs, with Dror Kashtan’s team controlling Saturday’s match long before Hapoel defender Bevan Fransman was sent off in the 82nd minute.
“We dominated the game and Hapoel didn’t reach any chance,” Kashtan said.
Betar Jerusalem claimed its third straight victory at Teddy Stadium on Saturday, beating Hapoel Acre 2-0.
Kobi Moyal crossed the ball for Idan Tal to head in the opener in the seventh minute and secured the victory for the hosts with his first league goal of the season in the 73rd minute.
“It was very important for us to win tonight,” said Betar coach Roni Levy, whose team climbed to 10th place on Saturday, a position which leads to the mid-table playoffs. “It is crucial for us to be in the mid-table playoffs and we have one more match to win to complete the job.”
Betar, which visits Kiryat Shmona next week, leapfrogged Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday after the southerners lost 2-1 to Maccabi Netanya in front of an empty Vasermil Stadium.
No fans were allowed to attend the match following the firing of dozens of projectiles to the south over the weekend, with the 0-0 draw between Ashdod SC and Hapoel Haifa also being played in front of empty stands on Saturday due to the security situation.
Ahmed Saba’s brace (11, 63) gave Netanya a 2-0 lead, with Siraj Naser’s consolation goal (86) not preventing Beersheba from falling to its sixth loss in its last eight games.
Maccabi Tel Aviv left National Stadium in Ramat Gan with mixed emotions on Saturday.
On the one hand, it ended its threematch losing streak with a 2-2 draw with Maccabi Petah Tikva, but on the other, it missed two penalties, squandering a golden opportunity to take all three points.
The yellow-and-blue took the lead from the penalty spot in the 16th minute through Eliran Atar, but five minutes later Ori Uzan equalized from the spot after goalkeeper Liran Strauber inexplicably brought down Tal Ben- Haim.
Atar could have put Tel Aviv back in the lead just before halftime, but he could only send his penalty against the post after Maor Buzaglo was fouled in the box for the second time in the match.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Omer Damari poured salt on Tel Aviv’s wounds, slotting the ball past Strauber to give Petah Tikva the lead.
However, it took Tel Aviv just seven minutes to tie the score, with Buzaglo putting Atar through and the young striker scoring his 15th league goal of the season.
Buzaglo could have completed the comeback 11 minutes from time after being pulled down by Kobi Gannon, who was subsequently sent off, but the Tel Aviv midfielder’s penalty would only hit the crossbar and the points would be shared.
Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin took an important step towards survival, beating Hapoel Ashkelon 2-0 in Shlomi Dora’s first match since becoming the team’s fourth coach of the season.
Paty Yeye (4) and Hamad Ganayem (40) scored for the hosts, who leapfrogged Ashkelon by handing Eli Mahpud’s side its ninth defeat in 10 matches.
On Sunday, Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts Hapoel Ramat Gan in another important battle against relegation.