Sinking Reds must turn things around in a hurry

After failing to win for a 4th consecutive match, Hapoel Tel Aviv know they must defeat Hapoel Acre to keep the team in title contention.

Salim Toama, Hapoel Tel Aviv 311  (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Salim Toama, Hapoel Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Premier League title hopes hang by a thread entering Saturday’s match against Hapoel Acre at Bloomfield Stadium.
A four-match winless streak has seen the one-point lead Hapoel held at the top of the standings less than three weeks ago turn into a nine-point deficit to the streaking Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Hapoel, which has also been leapfrogged by Ashdod SC, has scored just two goals in its last four games, losing twice 1-0 before recording two straight 1-1 draws, the latest coming against Betar Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Tel Aviv didn’t really deserve to even claim a single point against Betar and coach Dror Kashtan knows a significant and immediate improvement is needed.
“We saw 90 minutes of nothing from Hapoel,” Kashtan admitted. “This is a second straight match we have scored an early goal and stopped playing afterwards.
We played very poorly. We didn’t move the ball, didn’t threaten Betar’s goal and allowed Jerusalem to dominate the possession.”
Kashtan is not too concerned with the gap Kiryat Shmona has opened, mainly because he knows that if Hapoel doesn’t pick up its performance soon it has no chance of winning the championship regardless of what the northerners do.
“We need to focus on the way we are playing and not on the gap,” he said. “This may sound like an excuse, but we are missing four key players through injury and we need to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window.”
Kiryat Shmona visits second- placed Ashdod on Monday in the unlikeliest top of the table showdown in recent history.
Meanwhile, the floundering Maccabi Haifa goes for just its second win in six matches on Saturday when it visits the desperate Hapoel Rishon Lezion, which is winless in its past 16 matches.
Also Saturday, fourth-placed Bnei Sakhnin looks for its fourth straight victory when it hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv, Bnei Yehuda visits Maccabi Netanya, Hapoel Ramat Hasharon welcomes Hapoel Beersheba and Hapoel hosts Maccabi in the Petah Tikva derby.
Betar visits Hapoel Haifa in a crucial match-up in the battle against relegation on Sunday.
Betar, which has won just once in its past 14 matches, received further bad news on Thursday after the Israel Football Association announced that it will penalize the club for its fans’ racist chants on Wednesday, which could result in the team being deducted two points.