Local Soccer: Haifa hammers Hap PT, secures top spot

In other action Saturday, Betar Jerusalem stumbled to a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Bnei Yehuda beat Bnei Sakhnin 2-0

Maccabi Haifa 224.88 (photo credit: Berney Ardov)
Maccabi Haifa 224.88
(photo credit: Berney Ardov)
Maccabi Haifa has made its case as a serious title contender, completing its first round of games top of the league with a convincing 4-1 victory away at Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday afternoon. In other action Saturday, Betar Jerusalem stumbled to a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Bnei Yehuda beat Bnei Sakhnin 2-0. Despite a lively start by Hapoel Petah Tikva, it was Haifa that took the lead on 13 minutes, Mohammad Ghadir spectacularly volleying in an Alon Harazi cross. The away side extended its lead five minutes later. John Culma found Lior Rafaelov outside the box and the Haifa midfielder's shot bounced off the turf and nestled into the bottom corner. Hapoel pulled a goal back almost immediately. After picking up a square ball by Junior Viza, Koni Jakreta let fly from 30 meters and the ball squirmed in under Haifa keeper Amir Edri. However, Haifa restored its two-goal cushion on the half-hour mark when a Rafaelov free-kick hit his team-mate Biram Kiyal and rolled in past the wrong-footed Snir Dori. The away side took its foot off the pedal in the second half, but Petah Tikva lacked the imagination to further unlock a solid Haifa defense. Viza, so influential in recent weeks, was particularly disappointing, while the league's top scorer, Shimon Abuhatzera, hardly got a sniff at goal. Shlomi Arbeitman wrapped up the win for Haifa with an injury-time free kick. Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0, Maccabi Netanya 3 Despite a comfortable victory for his side, Netanya coach Lothar Matthaus conceded that he would like to make "fans of Israeli football happier" by playing with more style. All three of the away side's goals came in the first half and owed to some woeful Kiryat Shmona defending. On 26 minutes, Ironi's Yuval Shabtai completely missed a Ravid Gazal cross and an unmarked Thierry Tazemeta smashed the ball in. Matthaus's men doubled their advantage three minutes before the interval when a long ball bounced over Ironi center back Yossi Biton and Shalev Menashe crashed a half-volley into the corner. The third goal came on the stroke of half-time when Kiryat Shmona 'keeper Danny Amos missed a free-kick and Daniel Humberto headed the ball into an empty net. Betar Jerusalem 1, Maccabi Petah Tikva 1 Betar Jerusalem has masses of ground to make up in this season's title race if it is to have any chance of retaining the championship. After Saturday night's home draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva, the champion is nine points off the summit with a third of the season gone. The home side fell behind in the 34th minute when Petah Tikva striker Pablo Bastianini headed in an Ismael Amer cross. Betar's equalizer came in somewhat fortunate fashion. Aviram Baruchian's free-kick was apparently meant as a cross, but the ball bounced straight in, beyond the diving Ohad Cohen. Bnei Yehuda 2, Bnei Sakhnin 0 Bnei Yehuda came out on top at Bloomfield Stadium in a bad-tempered encounter which saw three men sent off. The hosts took the lead nine minutes after the break when Eliran Atar nodded in a Pedro Galvan center, and the same two players combined for the second goal, with Atar back-heeling in a cross from the Argentine. Sakhnin's Muhammad Abu Raiya was sent off just before half-time for a foul on Tamir Kahlon, while Bnei Yehuda was reduced to nine men in the second period after both Maharan Radi and Eli Abarbanel received their marching orders. Ashdod SC 3, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 2 Ashdod continued its recent good form with a narrow win at home to struggling Hakoach. Idan Shriki put the hosts into an early lead, finding the net after Hakoach 'keeper Nil Abarbanel parried a David Revivo cross, but the away side equalized midway through the first-half when Eitan Tibi headed in a Benny Hadad corner. Revivo restored Ashdod's lead seven minutes before the break, slotting in a penalty after Dimitar Makriev was bundled over in the box by Hakoach defender Yisrael Rosh, and the home side extended its advantage 15 minutes from time when Makriev headed home another Revivo center. Idan Weitzman scored a consolation goal for Hakoah in stoppage time with a cracking 35-meter effort.