Local Soccer: Zehavi's golden touch sends Hapoel TA top

Reds pile pressure on Haifa with win at Maccabi Petah Tikva; in other action, Netanya slips up against Bnei Yehuda, Betar batters Hakoach.

df (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Although it could be just for 48 hours, Hapoel Tel Aviv went top Saturday after a hard-fought, but ultimately deserved, 2-1 victory away at Maccabi Petah Tikva, piling the pressure on second-placed Maccabi Haifa ahead of Monday's match at Ashdod. Meanwhile, Maccabi Netanya lost ground in the title race, going down 2-0 at Bnei Yehuda, while Betar overtook Lothar Matthaus' men on goal difference thanks to a 4-0 win against bottom club Hakoach. Elsewhere Saturday, a brace from Armenian Ilya Yavruyan helped Maccabi Tel Aviv to a 3-2 home win against Ironi Kiryat Shmona, while Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva drew two apiece. Hapoel was vastly superior to Maccabi Petah Tikva in the first period, carving the hosts open again and again with some exuberant passing, and the Reds got off to the best possible start to the match when in the seventh minute, a Bibras Natkho corner was headed in by an unmarked Walid Badir. Soon after, the Hapoel captain went close to bagging his second when he spun and shot over after Samuel Yeboah's knock-down, before Ohad Cohen palmed away a Dimitar Telkiyski free-kick. The Petah Tikva players were finding it difficult to get near the ball and Hapoel's superiority was encapsulated in a fabulous move six minutes before the interval that left Ronnie Levy's men chasing shadows and which ended with Gili Vermuth playing in Ben Luz, whose shot from a tight angle was saved by Cohen. However, whatever Ronnie Levy said to his team at half-time seemed to do the trick, the hosts looking a completely different outfit and leveling four minutes after the break with a goal reminiscent of the one they conceded. Yaniv Mizrahi came out feebly to meet an Ismael Amer free-kick, but Boban Grncarov rose higher than the Hapoel stand-in 'keeper and crashed a header into the back of the net. Moments later, it almost got even better for the home side, but Rubil Sarsour could only flick a header straight at Mizrahi from Omer Buchsenbaum's near-post cross, before Dani Freda smashed a volley against the angle of post and bar. Hapoel soon got back into the game though, and after Vermuth was booked for diving in the box when he appeared to have been felled by Murad Megamadov, Eli Guttman's men went back in front with a brilliantly worked free-kick. The Petah Tikva players were expecting Telkiyski to deliver the ball into the heart of the box from the right, but instead, the Bulgarian rolled it to the edge of the area, where Eran Zehavi pulled off his marker and fired a screamer into the corner. Mizrahi capped off a nightmare performance when he was sent off for scything down Sarsour just outside the box as the Petah Tikva striker bore down on goal. The dismissal forced Hapoel to bring on Arik Yanko - who, astonishingly, is usually the youth team's reserve 'keeper - but he managed to keep Petah Tikva at bay in a nervy last ten minutes. Guttman was clearly delighted with the three points. "We got a victory against an excellent opposition at a difficult ground," said the smiling Hapoel coach. Those who witnessed the supporters' celebrations at the final whistle could have been forgiven for thinking Hapoel had just won the title, but Guttman was keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "We need to calm down," he said. "But this win should give us a good feeling and more self-confidence for the upcoming fixtures." Betar Jerusalem 4, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0 Betar's four goals came courtesy of the inspirational Barak Itzhaki. As early as the tenth minute, the Israel international smashed home the rebound after Hakoach stopper Joslain Mayebi had saved Amit Ben Shushan's first-time shot. Five minutes later, he picked up the ball from Aviram Bruchian on the right and turned 360 degrees, rolling the ball between two Hakoach players before flicking it through to Idan Vered, who finished under Mayebi. Itzhaki then capped off a wonderful first-half for Betar by back-heeling an Idan Tal pass straight into Ben Shushan's path. Although the striker's effort was tame, it bounced over the stumbling Mayebi and nestled into the net. And on 73 minutes, man-of-the-match Itzhaki slotted the ball into the corner after Ben Shushan had run half the field and rolled it across goal. Bnei Yehuda 2, Maccabi Netanya 0 Netanya failed to build on its victory a fortnight ago against Betar and dropped to fourth place and four points off the top after being outplayed by Bnei Yehuda. The hosts took the lead midway through the first half. Tamir Kahlon swapped passes with Pedro Galvan on the edge of the area and stuck a stunning shot into the bottom corner past the helpless Liran Strauber. Netanya's Shalev Menashe was sent off on the hour for tripping up Kobi Moyal off the ball, and Bnei Yehuda wrapped up the points with six minutes to go when the excellent Galvan turned in Tomer Hemed's center. Saturday's results: Maccabi Petah Tikva 1, Hapoel Tel Aviv 2; Bnei Yehuda 2, Maccabi Netanya 0; Betar Jerusalem 4, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 0; Hapoel Petah Tikva 2, Bnei Sakhnin 2; Maccabi Tel Aviv 3, Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2.