Mid-week slate headlined by Ashdod-Mac Haifa duel

What makes Ashdod’s success especially remarkable is that it's achieved it with a squad almost identical to the one that only barely avoided relegation last season.

ASHDOD SC (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Had you told Ashdod SC coach Yossi Mizrahi at the start of the season that his team would be entering Wednesday’s match at reigning Premier League champion Maccabi Haifa nine points ahead of the Greens he would have laughed in your face.
But amazingly, with the season about to hit its halfway mark, it is Ashdod which looks the likelier of the two teams to go on and win the championship.
Haifa’s 3-1 loss at Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday was already its sixth of the season, while Ashdod’s 2-1 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday was its sixth in seven matches, taking it ahead of Hapoel Tel Aviv into second place in the standings, four points behind leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
What has made Ashdod’s success especially remarkable is the fact that Mizrahi has achieved it with a squad almost identical to the one that only barely avoided relegation last season.
Mizrahi knows there are certain to be some difficult days ahead, but he believes in his team and understands that a win against Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium will make a resounding statement no one in Israeli soccer will be able to deny.
“I’m not talking about winning the championship,” Mizrahi said after the victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. “But after such a start to the season we must finish among the very top teams.
“Our test will come when we begin to lose and we will need to prove we can overcome defeats.”
Meanwhile, Kiryat Shmona will be looking to extend its lead at the top when it hosts rock-bottom Hapoel Petah Tikva on Wednesday.
Ran Ben-Shimon’s side will be hoping Ashdod drops points at Haifa and will be extremely confident of claiming a seventh straight win against Petah Tikva, which will also enter the encounter in an upbeat mood after its victory over the Greens.
Hapoel Tel Aviv seemed on course for another championship two weeks ago, but it is now in danger of losing touch with Kiryat Shmona after picking up a single point from its last three games.
However, Hapoel’s struggles pale in comparison to those of its opponent on Wednesday, with Betar Jerusalem just two points above the relegation zone after winning only one of its past 13 matches.
Betar hosts Hapoel at National Stadium in Ramat Gan as a punishment for its fans’ unruliness in the match against Bnei Yehuda.
Also Wednesday, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Rishon Lezion, Hapoel Acre visits Hapoel Beersheba, Maccabi Petah Tikva welcomes Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Ramat Hasharon faces Bnei Sakhnin.
On Tuesday, Bnei Yehuda claimed its third win in four matches, beating Hapoel Haifa 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium thanks to Pedro Galvan’s 79th minute strike.