Local Soccer: Haifa, Hap TA look to hold on to top spots

Betar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi TA in empty Teddy Stadium.

hapoel ta soccer action 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel ta soccer action 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
A week before they meet at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in a match which could very well decide this season's champion, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have got to take care of business against two of the Premier League's weaker teams this weekend. Tel Aviv and Haifa are tied on 57 points with four more matches remaining to be played this season and Hapoel in first position thanks to its slightly superior goal difference. Tel Aviv only hosts 10th placed Bnei Sakhnin on Monday, giving Haifa the opportunity to put some pressure on its title rival with a home victory over second-to-last Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan on Saturday. Haifa was very disappointing in the 0-0 draw against Sakhnin in the Doha Stadium on Monday, and will have to show some significant improvement if it's to lift the league title at the end of the season. "I was the first to say that the match in Sakhnin was one of our worst of the season," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said on Thursday. "But it won't do us any good if we remain downcast, we must lift our heads. We're only trailing Tel Aviv by two goals." Haifa is unbeaten in the league since February, but has only won three of its last six matches. Hakoach has hit top form in recent weeks, winning two and drawing one of its last four matches, and is already five points clear of rock-bottom Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Dudu Dahan's team is also only three points away from Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva, meaning it's still in with a good chance of not only avoiding relegation but also the relegation playoff, in which the team that finishes the season in 11th position will have to play against a National League rival. "We're expecting a very difficult match against Hakoach," Levy said. "We want to win this match and make sure we enter the Hapoel game in the best possible situation." Ironi Kiryat Shmona visits Maccabi Netanya on Saturday, desperate to claim a victory and boost its lingering hopes of staying in the league. Kiryat Shmona has lost all three of its matches since coach Ran Ben-Shimon returned to the club and another defeat on Saturday will leave the team facing a mammoth task to avoid relegation. Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv in an empty Teddy due to an IFApunishment for fans' racism, Ashdod SC visits Maccabi Petah Tikva and Bnei Yehuda welcomes Hapoel Petah Tikva.