Local Soccer: Hap TA turns up heat on Mac Haifa

Elsewhere, Ashdod takes giant step towards securing top-6 playoff place with win against Mac TA; Betar hammers Nazareth.

hapoel tel aviv eran  zehavi 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
hapoel tel aviv eran zehavi 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hap TA turns up heat on Haifa
Hapoel Tel Aviv piled the pressure on Maccabi Haifa on Saturday, beating a tenacious Hapoel Acre 5-3 in a quite breathtaking match at Bloomfield Stadium.
The win cut the Greens’ lead at the top to just five points ahead of Sunday's game against Hapoel Petah Tikva, and just three weeks before points get halved and the much-anticipated playoffs begin.
Elsewhere, Ashdod’s young guns took a giant step toward securing their place in the top-six with a 3-1 win against out-of-sorts Maccabi Tel Aviv, while Betar’s stunning form continued with a 5-0 win at home to Nazareth, the Jerusalem side’s fifth straight victory.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva came back from two down to draw 2-2 at home to Hapoel Haifa, while, after stunning Maccabi Haifa last week, Bnei Sakhnin maintained its impressive league form with a 2-1 victory at Maccabi Netanya.
In the day’s two remaining fixtures, Hapoel Ramat Gan scraped a 1-0 win against bottom side Ra’anana, while Hapoel Beersheba and Bnei Yehuda played out a goalless draw.  
Hapoel Tel Aviv 5, Hapoel Acre 3
It was a strong start by Hapoel Tel Aviv, with Bojan Vrucina flashing the ball across the face of goal, and the hosts only had to wait until the fifth minute before taking the lead.
Walid Badier beat Geva Barkai in the air and crashed a header past a motionless Dudu Goresh from Eran Zehavi’s corner.
The Reds doubled their lead eight minutes later. Itai Shechter turned Itzhak Cohen, and although the striker’s shot was saved by Goresh, Zehavi’s rebound slid through the Acre ‘keeper’s legs and rolled into the net.
Fourteen minutes later, and just when Tel Aviv seemed destined to coast to an easy victory, the visitors pulled one back. Shai Abutbul dwelled on the ball and lost out to Ibrahim Abdul Razak, whose shot from the edge of the box deflected off Badier and looped in over Vincent Enyeama.
The match turned ugly toward the end of the half when a foul on Badier by Awudu Okocha produced a furious and, it has to be said, downright childish reaction from the Tel Aviv players. The melee resulted in a booking for Abutbul, and Badier was cautioned moments later when he continued to have words with the Acre striker.
Tel Aviv coach Gutman later said that Okocha “came to start a war,” noting that the Ghanaian had broken Abutbul’s leg last year while playing for Sakhnin.
War or no war, Gutman’s players were made to pay for their lack of composure in the last minute of the half. Lior Reuven crossed from the right and Roi Dayan rose above the hotheaded Badier and planted a textbook header past Enyeama to equalize.
But Gutman apparently managed to restore some calm to his ranks at half-time, and two substitutes combined to regain the lead for the Reds just past the hour. Omri Canada crossed from the right and Victor Merey sent a diving headed past Goresh.
Shechter made the points safe five minutes from time, racing onto the Gili Vermut’s pass, knocking it past Goresh and stroking the ball in to become Hapoel Tel Aviv’s first ever player to reach 20 goals in one season.
Dedi Ben-Dayan then got a flattering fifth for Tel Aviv, collecting Vermut’s pass before impudently curling the ball in with the outside of his left foot.
Abdul Razak drove home for Acre in the final seconds, but the goal proved to be no more than a consolation for Yaron Hochenboim’s battling side.
Ashdod SC 3, Maccabi Tel Aviv 1
The game burst into life in somewhat controversial fashion in the 15th minute. Ronald Raldes shoved Ashdod striker Dimitar Makriev as the two chased a long ball over the top, and although the foul appeared to have been committed outside the box, referee Eitan Tabrizi decided to send the Bolivian defender off and award Ashdod a penalty.
Idan Sade duly dispatched the spot-kick to put Ashdod ahead, and the hosts deservedly doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time when Moshe Ohayon’s cross-cum-shot was turned in by Idan Shriki.
Maccabi pulled one back midway through the second period when Guillermo Yisraelevich’s cross was headed in by substitute Ilya Yavruyan.
But Yossi Mizrahi’s men restored their two-goal advantage seven minutes from the end, as Nir Nahum center was sliced into his own net by Shiran Yeini. 
Betar Jerusalem 5, Ahi Nazareth 0
In-form Betar took the lead with just over a quarter-of-an-hour gone, with Hen Azriel side-footing home from Toto Tamuz’s cut-back.
And Azriel returned the favor six minutes before the break, sliding in Tamuz who fired the ball across Joslain Mayebi and into the bottom corner. 
Amit Ben-Shushan got the third 13 minutes from time when his weak shotdeflected off Mor Dahan, and young substitute Dan Einbinder thennotched his first league goal when Mayebi failed to hold his swervingshot.
Einbinder’s fellow replacement Tzahi Elihen also got offthe mark, slotting home in added-time after some great work byBen-Shushan.  
Saturday’sresults: Betar Jerusalem 5, Ahi Nazareth 0; Ashdod SC 3, Maccabi TelAviv  1; Maccabi Netanya 1, Bnei Sakhnin 2; Hapoel Beersheba 0, BneiYehuda  0; Maccabi Petah Tikva 2, Hapoel Haifa 2; Hapoel Tel Aviv 5,Hapoel Acre 3; Hapoel Ramat Gan 1, Hapoel Ra’anana