Relegation battle more intriguing than title fight

Ramat Gan defeated Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League 2-1 in Wednesday’s semifinals thanks to Israel Zaguri’s goal.

Hapoel Ramat Gan 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Ramat Gan 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After advancing to just its second State Cup final in club history, Hapoel Ramat Gan will hope to keep the momentum rolling and climb out of the Premier League relegation zone with a win at Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday.
Ramat Gan defeated Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League 2-1 in Wednesday’s cup semifinals thanks to Israel Zaguri’s stoppage-time goal.
However, Eli Cohen’s men have won just one of their past six league games and sit in 13th position out of 14 teams with 30 points.
Sakhnin is one place and two points above Ramat Gan and the relegation zone, and with just three more matches remaining, Saturday’s showdown is critical for both sides.
“The win in the cup can give us a massive push in the battle against relegation,” said Ramat Gan coach Eli Cohen. “To be honest, I was very worried about going into extra-time as I didn’t want the players to tire.
“When I won the cup with Ramat Gan 10 years ago we were in a very similar situation, so I’m hoping that once more we can remain the top flight and lift the cup, while Maccabi Tel Aviv will win the championship the way it did in 2003.”
Sakhnin is unbeaten in its past four matches, but it has won only one of its last nine contests, and will host Saturday’s match in Nazareth after it was punished for its fans’ poor conduct.
Maccabi Netanya finds itself in the direst of situations entering Saturday, stranded in last position after going winless over its past nine games, including the last three under new coach Reuven Atar.
Netanya (29 points) hosts on Saturday an Ashdod (39) team which has got little to play for after beating Hapoel Haifa 1-0 last week to effectively secure itself another season in the Premier League.
“There is no way back from this match,” said Atar. “We haven’t played well enough in recent matches, but we are now arriving to our final three games and I believe our season will end on a sweet note.”
While Netanya has yet to benefit from replacing Tal Banin with Atar, coach Yuval Naim has injected new life into Hapoel Acre since taking charge of the team in early February.
Acre (32) has lost just one of its last 10 matches and visits Hapoel Beersheba (34) on Saturday.
Beersheba holds a four-point gap from the relegation zone, but will be looking to calm its nerves with a home victory on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa, which is one point ahead of Beersheba, hosts Beitar Jerusalem (38).
In the championship playoffs, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which is brimming with confidence after stunning Maccabi Haifa in the cup semifinals.
Haifa visits Bnei Yehuda on Sunday, and should it lose, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be able to officially clinch the championship with a win over Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Monday.