In-form Maccabi TA climbs to the top

Yellow-and-blue beats Ramat Gan 3-1 ahead of derby; Betar wins third straight.

MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Eliran Atar 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Eliran Atar 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Two more goals by Eliran Atar led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a 3-1 victory over Hapoel Ramat Gan on Saturday night, taking the yellow-and-blue up to first place in the Premier League standings ahead of next week’s derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
After a goalless first half at the Moshava Stadium in Petah Tikva, Atar scored twice in less than two minutes (47, 48), taking his tally for the season to nine goals in eight matches.
Maharan Radi clinched the three points for Maccabi with a superb finish into the top left corner in the 65th minute, with Ramat Gan failing to capitalize on Eitan Tibi’s own goal four minutes later.
Ashdod, which entered the weekend top of the table ahead of Maccabi on goal difference, dropped to second place after only managing a 0-0 tie at Hapoel Beersheba, which recorded its sixth draw in eight games this season.
“We had a very good 20 minutes at the start of the second half,” said yellow- and-blue coach Oscar Garcia after seeing his team register its seventh win in eight games. “We knew they would be tired in the second half, but I’m not very happy with the last 20 minutes. We are not good enough to relax at the end of matches.”
Betar Jerusalem continued its resurgence on Saturday, beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 thanks to Avi Rikan’s goal in the second minute of stoppage time.
It looked as if Betar would fail to build on last week’s impressive 3-2 triumph over Hapoel Tel Aviv, but Rikan’s winner at Teddy Stadium clinched its third consecutive victory and took it up to fifth place two weeks after it found itself bottom of the standings.
“We had a difficult time recovering from the match against Hapoel,” said Betar coach Eli Cohen. “We worked very hard against a very tough team and our patience paid off in the end.”
Reigning-champion Ironi Kiryat Shmona won for the first time in six matches on Saturday, beating Hapoel Acre 1-0 through Sintiyahu Salalik’s 86th-minute winner.
“I’m delighted with this win because it is the first win of my career as a head coach and it was so hard to achieve,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar, who replaced Gili Landau over a month ago. “We haven’t played well in a while and we weren’t very good today, but I’ll take this win.”
Haifa’s two clubs will occupy the bottom of the standings for at least 48 hours after Bnei Sakhnin defeated Hapoel Haifa 2-0 on Saturday, with Maccabi Haifa not hosting Bnei Yehuda until Monday.
Sakhnin continued its improvement of recent weeks with its second straight victory courtesy of goals from Ahmed Kasoum (12) and Hamad Ganayem (38).
Maccabi Haifa has collected just two more points (5) than its crosstown rival after winning only once in its first seven matches, but it will be desperate to change that at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Monday.
On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv can close back within three points of Maccabi Tel Aviv ahead of next week’s showdown when it visits Maccabi Netanya for the official inauguration of Netanya’s new NIS 240 million stadium.