Maccabi Tel Aviv has apparently edged out its rivals in the race for second place in the Premier League standings. Eli Cohen's team recovered from its State Cup loss to Bnei Sakhnin last week and produced a convincing performance to thrash Maccabi Herzliya 3-0 in their Premier League match on Saturday. With Maccabi Haifa losing to Maccabi Petah Tikva 1-0 and Hapoel Tel Aviv surrendering to Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan 2-1, Maccabi Tel Aviv made the most of the situation. Tel Aviv collected all three points and moved within five points of league frontrunner Betar Jerusalem.
Standings and results
"A much needed win for the lads," Cohen said after the game. "We've been through some torrid weeks and this victory has come at a right time for us. Many of our key players have been injured and out of form, but I'm glad we earned a convincing win today.
"The aim is to end the season with a positive streak and earn a spot in next season's European competition. The domestic season is not yet over for us."
Yossi Mizrahi's Betar, which would have had a chance to clinch its first Premier League championship since 1998 if Maccabi Tel Aviv had not won, hosts relegated Hapoel Petah Tikva in the Matchday 30 finale on Sunday night.
Mizrahi is expected to pair Amit Ben-Shushan with regular starter Barak Itzhaki in attack, as Toto Tamuz will open on the bench.
Also over the weekend, Ironi Kiryat Shmona clinched promotion to the Premier League for the first time in club history after registering an easy 5-2 win over Bnei Lod.
Ran Ben-Shimon's team will finish second in the National
League, behind Bnei Sakhnin, which secured first place last week.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 3,Maccabi Herzliya 0
Tel Aviv stung the Toto Cup holders with a quickfire double in the first half at Bloomfield Stadium.
Avi Yehiel put Tel Aviv ahead with a close range strike in the 24th minute, and Yossi Shivhon capped a slick move with a clinical finish just four minutes later.
Herzliya's hopes of making a comeback took a serious blow in the 48th minute. Pati Yablanka was ejected while protesting a penalty kick decision against his team. Tel Aviv captain Avi Nimni failed to convert the spot kick.
Cohen's team took advantage of its numerical advantage on the field and nailed the third in the 76th minute. Moshe Biton did the damage for Tel Aviv, after finishing off a swift counterattack from point-blank range.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 1, Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan 2
Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan came out with all guns blazing looking for all three points.
Tel Aviv showed up without suspended regular goalkeeper Shavit Elimelech, and third-string Nir Abarbanel filled in.
Abarbanel's lack of experience led to a Ramat Gan goal in the 20th minute. Yossi Rozen took the ball in his stride and let fly from 30 meters away. The 'keeper failed to handle the ball correctly, fisting it into his own goal.
But Tel Aviv drew level just three minutes later. Ramat Gan's Itzik Cohen was caught handling the ball in the box and a penalty was awarded. Elyaniv Barda missed the spot kick, but pounced on the rebound and got on the scoresheet.
Ramat Gan knew that a point would be of no use in its relegation battle and attacked in the second half. The gamble paid off when it was awarded a penalty in the 55th minute. Rozen stepped up and sent Abarbanel the wrong way to net the winner.
Maccabi Haifa 0, Maccabi Petah Tikva 1
With just a season-low 2,000 fans at Kiryat Eliezer, Haifa failed to dominate the midfield and dictate tempo.
Petah Tikva played a flawless first half, and took a well-deserved lead in the 42nd minute.
The "Luzons" earned a free kick just meters outside the penalty box. Veteran defender Ismael Amar stepped up and lofted a seemingly harmless ball. But the Haifa rearguard failed to clear the ball and it rolled into the back of the net.
Haifa coach Roni Levy inserted forwards Alain Masudi and Lior Rafaelov into the mix in the second half, which helped put pressure on Petah Tikva's defense.
However, Haifa failed to disturb Petah Tikva 'keeper Ohad Cohen, who showed safe hands in goal.
"A very disappointing result," Levy said after his team's latest setback. "We failed to win our State Cup fixture and now this has happened also in the league.
"I'm not at all happy with the goal we conceded today. It's been a very poor season for our club."