Local Soccer: Katan's heroics spare Maccabi Haifa more heartache
Elsewhere, Maccabi TA's 1-0 win at Hakoach lifts some pressure off Nimni, while Betar, this time, manages to hold on to a 2-0 lead.
By JONNY HADI
Yaniv Katan's dramatic last-gasp goal gave league leading Maccabi Haifa a crucial 2-1 win at home to Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday evening and ended a poor run of results for Elisha Levy's men.
Elsewhere, Maccabi Tel Aviv's 1-0 win at Hakoach lifted some pressure off Avi Nimni, while Betar Jerusalem managed to hold on to a 2-0 lead, beating Hapoel Petah Tikva away from home.
Overall, it was a scrappy match at Kiryat Eliezer, with Haifa far too predictable and Sakhnin way too negative.
Haifa's Mohammad Ghadir went close in the first half, heading just over from a Yaniv Katan cross, and Dekel Keinan then smashed a header against the bar from a corner.
Haifa took the lead at the start of the second period. Gustavo Boccoli's shot deflected wide, and from the resulting Katan corner, Thembinkosi Fanteni's header nestled inside the far post.
However, Sakhnin soon capitalized on Haifa's lack of creativity, hauling itself level with some 20 minutes to play. Abas Suan curled a corner into the near post and Ahmad Kassoum ghosted behind John Culma to head past 'keeper Nir Davidovich.
But Sakhnin seemed content to rest on its laurels, particularly after striker Awudu Okocha was sent off on 77 minutes for dissent, and things appeared to be going the way of Eyal Lachman's men before Katan's heroics.
In the fourth minute of injury-time, Colombian John Culma crossed low to substitute Shlomi Arbeitman, who laid the ball off to Katan. The midfield playmaker had a crowd of players in front of him, but he took his time and calmly curled the ball into the corner.
Haifa coach Elisha Levy was clearly relieved with the outcome. "No doubt, every win boosts our confidence," he said, maintaining, quite astonishingly, that Haifa had "played good, patient football."
Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 1
Avi Nimni finally had something to smile about on Saturday after a vital victory, albeit against the league's bottom side.
Maccabi should have been ahead as early as the 10th minute. Yossi Shivhon found Maor Buzaglo who was bundled over by Hakoach's Haim Pontramoli.
Although the foul appeared to have been committed just outside the box, the linesman flagged for a penalty. Nevertheless, Buzaglo's spot-kick was poor, and Hakoach 'keeper Joslain Mayebi made an easy, one-handed save.
Buzaglo made up for his miss on the hour though, curling a terrific, trade-mark free-kick into the bottom left-hand corner.
Nimni admitted that the win had lifted a huge weight off his shoulders, but vowed to strengthen his squad before the end of the January transfer window.
"Naturally, the pressure has been lifted," he said, adding that "a new striker will definitely arrive, maybe even two, and so will a defensive midfielder."
Hapoel Petah Tikva 0,
Betar Jerusalem 2
Reuven Atar's men managed to push aside the recent off-field shenanigans on Saturday afternoon thanks to a Toto Tamuz brace.
Betar controlled the first first half and, after Idan Tal and Barak Itzhaki went close, the reigning champion took the lead on 33 minutes.
Aviram Bruchian found Itzhaki just inside the box, who expertly flicked the ball through to Idan Vered.
The youngster's shot was saved by Shavit Elimelech, but Tamuz knocked in the rebound.
Betar doubled its lead on 77 minutes after Koni Jakreta had missed a great chance for the hosts at the other end. Vered's back-heal found Bruchian, who crossed for Tamuz to head into an empty net.
Ashdod SC 0, Bnei Yehuda 2
Bnei Yehuda continued its great run on Saturday evening, recording its sixth win from the last seven games.
The visitors went ahead in the second minute when Eliran Atar headed in Maharan Radi's corner, and Radi also set up Bnei Yehuda's second on the half-hour, playing a wonderful ball to Pedro Galvan who finished comfortably.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0,
Maccabi Petah Tikva 0
The northerners controlled the game and were denied on more than one occasion by in-form Petah Tikva 'keeper Ohad Cohen.
In the end, Eli Cohen's men had to settle for a draw that suited neither side.
The visitors were fuming after Tal Ben-Haim's controversial sending off midway through the second period.
Initially, the referee had blown for a penalty after the striker had fallen in the area, but incredibly, he changed his decision after consulting his linesman and instead gave Ben-Haim a second yellow card for diving.
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