Mac Haifa sitting pretty atop standings

Greens blank Acre while Mac TA shut out by Bnei Yehuda; Betar falls in Ashkelon.

Strauber 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Strauber 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa opened a seven-point gap at the top of the Premier League standings with its fourth straight victory on Saturday, while Maccabi Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem continued their disappointing seasons with humbling defeats.
Haifa beat Hapoel Acre 2-0 to move within one victory of ensuring it enters the championship playoffs in first place, with Bnei Yehuda handing the yellow-and-blue a third consecutive defeat, winning 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium, and Betar falling 2-1 at struggling Hapoel Ashkelon.
Haifa created little to nothing in the first 71 minutes of its match in Acre, which hadn’t lost in its previous five contests.
However, the Greens proved once more on Saturday that even when their performance is far from impressive, they have the character needed to eke out a win. Two goals in four minutes from Tomer Hemed (72) and Shlomi Azulai (76) gave them all three points yet again.
“Haifa has always had character,” said coach Elisha Levy, who will hope Hapoel Tel Aviv drops points when it hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva on Monday.
“We had some good minutes in the second half and beat a good team on the road. We have great depth and heart and now we need to beat Kiryat Shmona in our next match to secure first position ahead of the playoffs.”
After losing 4-0 to Kiryat Shmona and 3-0 to Maccabi Netanya, Maccabi Tel Aviv was desperate for a victory on Saturday, but Bnei Yehuda had no intention of allowing Moti Ivanir’s side to recover at its expense, claiming a comfortable 2-0 win.
The hosts took the lead at Bloomfield through Pedro Galvan’s goal in the 47th minute after Maccabi defender Savo Pavicevic tripped and Pini Balili collected the ball before squaring it for the Argentinian midfielder to tuck into an empty net.
Pavicevic was sent off in the 75th minute for a second bookable offense and eight minutes later Bnei Yehuda wrapped up the win after goalkeeper Liran Strauber made a mess of his clearance, allowing Galvan to chip the ball into an empty goal.
“We still have one more goal this season, which is to finish in third position,” said Ivanir, who was handed a contract extension through the 2011/12 campaign despite the defeats to Kiryat Shmona and Netanya.
“I’m a very strong person and I know what I can do with this team next season.
We are going through a bad period and playing poorly. But I believe that I can guide this club to success in the future and bring some joy to the fans.”
Maccabi is now just a single point ahead of Kiryat Shmona in the battle for third place and a Europa League berth after Ran Ben-Shimon’s team beat Hapoel Beersheba 1-0 on Saturday thanks to Wiyam Amashe’s 38th minute winner.
Betar looked to be on the rise in recent weeks after winning two of three matches to open a double-digit gap from the relegation zone. However, Roni Levy’s men have still got plenty of work to do before they guarantee themselves another season of topflight soccer after falling to a 2-1 defeat at Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday.
Ashkelon had lost eight consecutive games, conceding at least three goals in its last five defeats, but it gave itself renewed hope of survival with its sixth win of the season.
Eric Gawu gave the hosts the lead in the seventh minute with a header, but Jerusalem equalized just before halftime through a Hen Azriel penalty (45), two minutes after Mahmoud Abbas missed a spot kick for Ashkelon.
Gawu put Ashkelon back in front four minutes into the second half and Azriel was sent off in stoppage time to cap a night to forget for Betar.
Ashdod SC claimed its first win in 10 matches on Saturday, beating Hapoel Ramat Gan 2-1 thanks to Nir Biton’s 90th minute winner.
Biton equalized for the visitors in the 72nd minute after Ramat Gan took the lead with an Elin Topuzakov strike (55).
Also Saturday, an Omer Damari brace (45, 65) gave 10-man Maccabi Petah Tikva a 2-2 draw at Maccabi Netanya, which led twice through Dele Yampolsky (16) and Firas Mugrabi (55).
Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday.