Maccabi Haifa remains in the hunt for first

Amasha, Greens beat Netanya 2-1 to boost chances; Ramat Hasharon make playoffs.

Liroy Zhairi 370 (photo credit: Uzi Gal)
Liroy Zhairi 370
(photo credit: Uzi Gal)
Maccabi Haifa kept its Premier League title hopes alive with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Maccabi Netanya on Saturday night, while Hapoel Ramat Hasharon locked up the sixth and final ticket to the championship playoffs in the final weekend of the regular season.
Haifa cut the gap from league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv to seven points after Weeam Amasha scored an 81st-minute penalty to give the Greens their 12th win in their past 15 matches on Saturday.
Ahmed Saba gave Netanya the lead in the 24th minute, tucking in the ball from close-range, but Haifa got back on level terms just five minutes later. Alon Turgeman’s volley from the edge of the box bounced off the post, but ricocheted into the back of the net off the body of Netanya ‘keeper Luigi Cennamo.
Haifa had to wait until nine minutes from time to net the winner, with Shlomi Azulai being brought down in the box by Ido Levy and Amasha stepping up to score from the spot to keep the Greens in the hunt.
Maccabi Tel Aviv can reestablish a 10- point gap with a victory over Beitar Jerusalem at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday.
“It was important for us to prove that we are a good team and return to winning ways after last week’s draw against Hapoel Haifa,” said exhilarated Haifa coach Arik Benado. “We proved we are true men and I’m proud of every one of my players. We will always believe in our chances. The players are committed whether the gap is 15 or two points.”
Three teams entered Saturday with a chance to advance to the championship playoffs, but Ramat Hasharon quashed Beitar Jerusalem and Ashdod SC’s hopes by defeating Hapoel Beersheba 1-0 on the road.
Moshe Abutbul scored the only goal of the match in the 48th minute to clinch the playoff berth for the surprise team of the season.
The league will be split into two sections from next weekend, with the top six sides to play each other twice more to decide the champion, while the bottom eight teams will play each other once more to determine the relegation battle.
Hapoel Haifa climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since the second week of the season on Saturday, beating Hapoel Ramat Gan 2-1 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Haifa jumped from 13th to 10th position after Liran Cohen (47) and Danilo Nikolic (65) canceled out Ran Itzhak’s 13th-minute bicycle-kick opener.
Haifa’s Oshri Roash was sent off in the 90th minute after intentionally fouling David Manga from behind to deny him a clear shot at goal and Ramat Gan dropped into the relegation zone.
However, the battle against demotion looks set to go down to the wire, with just four points separating the bottom five teams after rock-bottom Hapoel Acre drew 0-0 with Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Sakhnin lost 2-0 to Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Ahmed Abed (18) and Osei Mawuli (90) scored for Kiryat Shmona, which leapfrogged Hapoel Tel Aviv into third place.
On Monday, Bnei Yehuda visits Ashdod SC.