Mac TA in driver’s seat as playoffs begin

With league now split, intrigue at both ends as teams battle for title and to avoid relegation.

MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Eliran Atar 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Eliran Atar 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Not only is Maccabi Tel Aviv on course to win its first Premier League championship in 10 years, but it is doing so in a ruthless and memorable manner.
The yellow-and-blue were deemed as a boring team by many pundits in the first half of the season, but Maccabi has run riot in recent months, scoring at will and steamrolling helpless opponents to open a 10-point gap at the top.
Maccabi is currently averaging 2.35 goals per game and looks set to be one of the highest scoring champions in recent memory. The yellow-and-blue will struggle to match the 2.49 average of the Hapoel Tel Aviv championship side of 2009/10, but Maccabi is well on track to outscore nine of the previous 10 champions.
Last season’s champion Ironi Kiryat Shmona only scored a measly 48 goals in 37 matches, with none of the previous 10 championship winning teams, other than Hapoel, to have averaged more than two goals per game.
Maccabi has won seven straight matches to open a double-digit lead over Maccabi Haifa, but it has been especially productive in its home encounters.
The 5-0 thrashing of Beitar Jerusalem on Sunday was Maccabi’s 12th win in 13 homes matches this season, with Tel Aviv claiming its past eight encounters at Bloomfield Stadium by an astounding combined goal difference of 31-3.
Hapoel Ramat Hasharon faces the unenviable task of visiting Maccabi at Bloomfield on Saturday as the championship playoffs get underway.
Ramat Hasharon clinched a place in the top six with last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Hapoel Beersheba, ensuring its season will be remembered as a remarkable success regardless of the results it records in the final 10 matches of the campaign.
Following the completion of two rounds of play last weekend, the league has been split into two sections, with the top six teams to play each other twice more to decide the champion, while the bottom eight sides will face each other once more to determine the relegation battle.
Tel Aviv can increase its lead to 13 points for at least 24 hours with second- placed Maccabi Haifa not hosting Bnei Yehuda until Sunday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday in a crucial showdown in the battle for third place and European qualification.
Hapoel’s championship aspirations have faded away after winning just one of its past eight matches and it dropped to fourth place in the standings last week following a 0-0 draw at rock-bottom Hapoel Acre.
Hapoel had hoped to at least reach Europe by winning the State Cup for a fourth straight season, but its last chance to end 2012/13 with a trophy was quashed with Tuesday’s humbling 1-0 quarterfinal defeat to Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League.
While Hapoel’s season keeps going from bad to worse, Kiryat Shmona looks to be ending its campaign on a high, winning four of its past five league games to leapfrog the Reds into third place, while also advancing to the cup semifinals with a 3-1 win at Bnei Sakhnin on Tuesday.
The battle against relegation will continue to heat up on Saturday, with just six points separating the bottom six teams.
Hapoel Beersheba, which holds a five-point cushion from the relegation zone, will be hoping to maintain some breathing space when it hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday, while last-placed Acre desperately needs a win at Ashdod SC.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Netanya, while Beitar Jerusalem, with an eight-gap from the relegation zone, welcomes Hapoel Ramat Gan on Sunday.