League-leading Haifa returns to winning ways over Hap PT; Netanya moves into second.
By JONNY HADI
Aviram Bruchian's second-half goal was enough for Betar to see off Maccabi Petah Tikva in a 1-0 away win on Saturday evening and ensure that at the end of its second round of league games, the reigning champion is very much in contention to retain the title.
In other action Saturday, Maccabi Haifa moved on to 42 points at the top with a win at home over Hapoel Petah Tikva, while Maccabi Netanya went up to second, with a victory against Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
The game at Maccabi Petah Tikva began in somewhat ugly fashion, when Betar defender Shimon Gershon had a heated exchange with teammate Dario Fernandez, culminating in the defender pushing the Argentine in the face.
But after apologies were exchanged, Betar brushed off the confrontation and the incident was all but forgotten after a first half in which the champion played some superb stuff, albeit without breaking the deadlock.
On seven minutes, Betar's Cristian Alvarez had a great chance to take the lead, but he fired wide after a cross by the lively Barak Itzhaki was touched on by Amit Ben-Shushan. Idan Tal then set up Fernandez, who cracked the ball just over the bar before Itzhaki went close from distance.
On 31 minutes, Petah Tikva stopper Ohad Cohen saved with his legs from Ben-Shushan, and Cohen then made a one-handed stop from Itzhaki after the Betar striker had wriggled free at the edge of the box.
Petah Tikva nearly took the lead at the start of the second half, but Liran Cohen drove inches wide after a stunning solo run by Dani Freda.
But Betar soon went in front with a goal of real quality.
Izhaki played a lovely one-two with Ben Shushan, his sublime control took him to the by-line and he somehow slid the ball across for Bruchian to tap in.
The hosts then threw everything forward and it nearly paid dividends in the closing minutes. Liran Cohen's cross was expertly headed clear by Eliran Danin just when Lior Asulin was pulling the trigger at the far post, before Tvrkto Kale made a wonderful reflex save to deny Rubil Sarsour.
Man-of-the-match Itzhaki hailed a "hard" win and said although things at Betar were beginning to click, talk of the championship was somewhat premature.
"We feel good in ourselves, we're playing good soccer," said the striker. "But we're still not talking about the title yet."
Maccabi Haifa 1, Hapoel Petah Tikva 0
After two defeats in a row, Maccabi Haifa returned to winning ways on Saturday afternoon despite fielding a depleted side due to the suspensions of John Culma and Yaniv Katan.
The hosts started well, with Biram Kiyal shooting wide from Osei Ransford's lay-off and Gustavo Boccoli then heading straight at 'keeper Shavit Elimelech, while at the other end, Nir Davidovich made a great double save to deny M'peti Nimba.
The league leader scored the all-important goal at the start of the second half. Boccoli sped past Cespedes before playing in Shlomi Arbeitman, and although the Haifa striker's shot was saved by Elimelech, Ransford smashed the rebound into the top corner.
Moments later, Petah Tikva's Eyal Shen was harshly sent off for a high tackle on Ransford, but despite being a man down, the visitors came close to equalizing when substitute Hen Azriel curled the ball against the bar after Anderson West had only partially cleared Shimon Abuhatzera's effort.
Maccabi Netanya 2, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 1
Lothar Matthaus's men maintained the pressure on Maccabi Haifa with an unimpressive home win against northern strugglers Kiryat Shmona.
Netanya took an early lead when Itai Shechter headed in an Alberto Blanco corner, but the visitors leveled in the closing stages of the first half when Salah Hasarma's shot took a deflection off Luis Marin and nestled into the bottom corner.
The winner came on the hour. Alberto Zapata's header from a corner was only parried by Danny Amos and Marin tucked it away from close range.
Matthaus was happy with the "important" win, but not wholly satisfied with the overall performance, saying his players made things "nervous" for themselves by failing to "finish the game off" at 2-1.
"I'm not satisfied with the communication on the field," he continued. "We have experienced, national [team] players, but there is no communication. Football is not only a sport with the body, but also with the head."
Bnei Sakhnin 0, Bnei Yehuda 2
Guy Luzon's men came out on top in a bad-tempered affair at Doha Stadium that saw Sakhnin reduced to nine players.
Bnei Yehuda went into a controversial lead in the 15th minute when referee Asher Cohen ignored a flagging linesman and allowed Eliran Atar's goal to stand after the Bnei Yehuda youngster was played in by Maharan Radi.
Sakhnin's Abbas Suan was sent off three minutes from time when he picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Atar, and a minute later, Paty Yeye got a red card for pulling his shirt.
Tamir Kahlon wrapped up the points for the away side in the last minute.
Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 1, Ashdod SC 1
Bottom side Hakoach picked up what might prove to be a valuable draw and closed the gap on Bnei Sakhnin to just two points.
Omer Rapps took the lead for Hakoach midway through the first half, but Michael Tukura was then sent off for the hosts.
An Idan Shriki strike leveled things up at the start of the second period before Ashdod's Cristian Gonzalez received his marching orders.
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