Sakhnin beats Betar to stay top-flight

Dramatic 1-0 triumph at Doha rescues northerners from relegation; Hap PT, Kfar Saba to face off in two-leg playoff for PL survival; Ashkelon seals own fate.

hapoel petah tikva_311 (photo credit: (Adi Avishai))
hapoel petah tikva_311
(photo credit: (Adi Avishai))
An 85th-minute goal by Mahran Abu Raiya gave Bnei Sakhnin a 1-0 victory over Betar Jerusalem at Doha Stadium on Saturday night, securing the club a fifth straight season of Premier League soccer.
With Shlomi Dora’s team struggling to break down Betar’s defense and Hapoel Petah Tikva leading comfortably at Hapoel Ashkelon, Sakhnin seemed destined to drop to 14th place and face a two-legged playoff tie against Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League.
However, Abu Raiya came to Sakhnin’s rescue with a dramatic winner after a melee in the Betar box and sparked wild celebrations at Doha, which were marred by the fact that 12 fans had to be taken to hospital after a fire-cracker exploded in the stands.
Petah Tikva’s 3-0 win over Ashkelon at least ensured it avoided automatic relegation, with Ashkelon to return to the second division after just one year in the top flight, joining rock-bottom Hapoel Ramat Gan.
“There is nothing sweeter than scoring a winner in the 85th minute,” said Dora, who lost just one of seven matches since becoming Sakhnin’s fourth coach of the season at the start of April, winning three of the last four games.
“It is worth being involved in soccer just for these moments. I’m happy to be the coach of this group of men. Other teams would have broken down, but we fought until the last minute and deserved to win.”
Petah Tikva will be confident of overcoming Kfar Saba in the playoffs – with the first leg to be played on Tuesday and the second on Friday – after recording a convincing win in Ashkelon.
Guy Tzarfati gave Gili Landau’s team the lead with a free-kick from 30 meters out in the 37th minute, a shot Ashkelon goalkeeper Stephen Ahorlu should have saved, and there was only going to be one winner after Alon Turgeman doubled the advantage six minutes after the break.
Ashkelon’s already miniscule hopes all but ended when Ravid Gazal recklessly stamped on Tzarfati in the 64th minute and was shown a red card just nine minutes after he came on as a substitute.
Rafi Dahan completed the win for Petah Tikva three minutes from time, but it was only enough to keep the team in 14th place and set up a tough tie with Kfar Saba.
“We returned to form at the right time,” Petah Tikva defender Gal Cohen said. “We came through a tough and tense week, but we channeled our energies in the right direction and showed our superiority.
“We have two more matches to try and secure our survival and I believe we will do it. I’m encouraged by our form and I’m certain we will stay up.”
There was obvious frustration among everyone connected with Ashkelon.
“This is very disappointing,” coach Eli Mahpud said. “I believed we could survive, but we didn’t do our job.”
Kfar Saba needed to defeat Hapoel Ra’anana on Friday to finish in second position and secure automatic promotion with Ironi Ramat Hasharon, but it could only manage a 1-1 draw.
Fudy Mahmud gave Ra’anana the lead in the 71st minute, but a stoppage time own-goal from Ofek Ben-Tulila at least kept Kfar Saba in third place, but still didn’t save Tomer Kashtan’s job, who was sacked after the match.
Hapoel Rishon Lezion took advantage of Kfar Saba’s slip-up and will play in the Premier League next season for the first time since 2003 after beating Ramat Hasharon 2-1 thanks to a David Gomez brace (5, 25).
Also in the relegation playoffs, Ashdod SC beat Hapoel Ramat Gan 1-0 thanks to Moshe Ohayon’s spot kick in the 29th minute.
Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv prepared for Wednesday’s State Cup final showdown by resting players on Saturday.
Haifa recorded a 1-1 draw at Bnei Yehuda, with Mohammad Ghadir (69) giving the visitors the lead and Shalev Menashe (77) equalizing for Dror Kashtan’s men.
A 90th minute goal by Wiyam Amashe gave Ironi Kiryat Shmona a 2-1 home win over Hapoel Tel Aviv, with Shimon Abu Hazeira scoring the opener in the 49th minute before Toto Tamuz leveled the score from the penalty spot four minutes from time with his leagueleading 21st goal of the season.
Earlier Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv ended a disappointing season on a bright note, thrashing Maccabi Netanya 4-1.
Gal Alberman (8) and Shiran Yeini (11) gave the hosts a comfortable early lead, and despite Ahmed Saba’s goal in the 25th minute, Tel Aviv wrapped up the win with ease, with Roberto Colautti scoring one minute from the break and Barak Itzhaki netting his first goal of the campaign after missing much of the season through injury from the penalty spot in the 87th minute.