Local Soccer: Magical Meshumar keeps Haifa in first place

Hap TA 2 points back following victory over Ashdod; Netanya all but out of title race after losing to Mac PT; Ironi coach Cohen quits as team goes bottom.

Ben Luz hapoel ta 248 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ben Luz hapoel ta 248 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Haifa remains in pole position in the tight Premier League title race thanks to Eyal Meshumar's late pile-driver in Saturday night's 2-1 home win against Hapoel Petah Tikva, while Hapoel Tel Aviv is still hot on the league-leader's heels following a fortunate 1-0 victory against Ashdod SC. Meanwhile, Lothar Matthaus' Maccabi Netanya seemingly dropped out of championship contention with a 2-1 defeat at home to Maccabi Petah Tikva. At the other end of the table, Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Eli Cohen resigned after a 1-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan left the northerners bottom, while nine-man Maccabi Tel Aviv amazingly walloped Bnei Sakhnin 3-0 at Doha Stadium. Shimon Abuhatzera got Hapoel Petah Tikva off to a flying start at Kiryat Eliezer, hooking in Junior Viza's cross after only 49 seconds for his 13th goal of the season, but Haifa drew level ten minutes before the break when Shlomi Arbeitman got on the end of John Culma's far-post cross to poke the ball beyond 'keeper Shavit Elimelech. Just when the table-toppers looked like they would be frustrated by an impressive Petah Tikva, Meshumar produced a moment of magic, collecting a square ball from Peter Masilela in the 88th minute and thumping it into the top corner from all of 30 meters, giving Elimelech no chance. Hapoel Tel Aviv 1, Ashdod SC 0 Hapoel remains two points behind Haifa owing to a highly controversial winner against Yossi Mizrahi's men. Eleven minutes before the interval, Elin Topuzakov flicked on a corner, Douglas da Silva headed the ball towards goal via Samuel Yeboah's chest and Dragan Stojkic appeared to have kept the effort out. Nevertheless, referee Meir Levi ruled that the ball had crossed the line before the Ashdod 'keeper's save. It was a harsh ruling for Ashdod, and particularly Stojkic, who made two spectacular saves from Gili Vermut on either side of the goal and did equally well to deny Dimitar Telkiyski twice in the second period. Ashdod's Matan Ohayon was dismissed on 79 minutes after receiving a second yellow card for a foolish hand ball, but the away side still came close to equalizing at the death when Hapoel stopper Vincent Enyeama kept out a pointblank header by Yossi Ofir, who then sent the rebound agonizingly over the bar. Maccabi Netanya 1, Maccabi Petah Tikva 2 The returning Lior Asulin put the away side ahead midway through the first half, firing in a Dani Freda cross, and Freda doubled Petah Tikva's lead just past the hour with a brilliant run and shot after robbing Bevan Fransman. Netanya's Nkosi Siyabonga headed in a Ravid Gazal cross with 13 minutes to play, but it turned out to be just a consolation goal for Lothar Matthaus' men, who are now an apparently unassailable nine points behind leader Maccabi Haifa. Bnei Sakhnin 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 3 Diabolical Sakhnin somehow contrived to lose convincingly at home to Maccabi despite the latter playing nearly the entire second-half with nine men and having its coach sent to the stands. The opening goal came in the 34th minute when Moshe Mishaelof planted a powerful header into the corner from Maor Buzaglo's free-kick. Trinidadian Scott Sealy was sent off on the stroke of half-time for shoving Yaya Petit off the ball after the Sakhnin man had stepped on his toes, and Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Avi Nimni was promptly banished from the bench for dissent. Seven minutes into the second half, Maccabi went down to nine men when Lior Jan received a second booking for a foul on Khaled Khalaila, but the visitors wrapped up the victory inside the last five minutes when Dulee Johnson finished off a swift break-away and Mishaelof smashed in the third after an indirect free-kick. Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 1, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 0 Barak Badash's priceless first-half goal lifted Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan off the bottom of the table, while Ironi dropped to last position and will now have to look for a new coach to save it from relegation.