TA derby draw leaves door open for K8 clinch

Kiryat Shmona can secure first league title in history with win over Bnei Yehuda Monday.

HAPOEL TEL AVIV and Maccabi Tel Aviv (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
HAPOEL TEL AVIV and Maccabi Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona can clinch an historic Premier League championship on Monday night after Hapoel Tel Aviv could only manage a 0-0 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv in a fan-less derby on Saturday night.
The most heated encounter in Israeli soccer lacked its usual fire on Saturday, with Hapoel hosting Maccabi in front of an empty Bloomfield Stadium due to a punishment handed down to the club by the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court following the violent behavior of its fans in the last derby three weeks ago.
With no supporters in the stands and no atmosphere in the stadium, it is of little surprise that the match rarely sparked into life.
“To play a derby without fans is like having a Purim feast on Tisha B’av,” Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi said.
“It was a strange and anemic affair. A 0-0 deadlock is a fitting result for this ridiculous punishment. You can’t play in this kind of atmosphere.”
Hapoel’s failure to win means Kiryat Shmona now holds a 16-point gap at the top of the standings and a home victory over Bnei Yehuda on Monday will see the northerners secure a first league title in their history, with still six matches to play in the season.
The draw in the Tel Aviv derby also means only three points separate Hapoel in second place and Ashdod SC in sixth in the battle for a Europa League berth next season awarded to the teams which will finish in second and third, and possibly also fourth, should one of the top three sides win the cup.
Maccabi Netanya climbed to third on Saturday with its fourth straight league win, defeating Ashdod 2-0 on the road to move tied on points with Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Netanya, which advanced to the quarterfinals of the State Cup by knocking out Kiryat Shmona last Wednesday, continued its sizzling form in Ashdod, with Ahmed Saba (56) improving his league-leading total to 19 goals and Hen Ezra (72) clinching the three points.
Maccabi Haifa closed to within just two points of second and third with a 2-0 win at Bnei Sakhnin courtesy of goals from Dele Yampolsky (24) and Yaniv Katan (73).
While the competition for European qualification remains wide open, the fight for survival could become much clearer on Sunday night should Betar Jerusalem beat Maccabi Petah Tikva following Hapoel Haifa’s crucial 2-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday.
Two goals in five first half minutes by Yuval Avidor (30) and Hanan Maman (34) were enough to give Haifa all three points at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium, with Ofir Davidzada’s goal (43) of little consolation for the visitors.
The victory took Haifa five points clear of Maccabi Petah Tikva and the relegation zone and Tal Banin’s men will be able to breath a lot easier should Jerusalem beat Moshe Sinai’s team at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Sunday to keep Petah Tikva in the bottom three and move the yellow-andblack seven points away from danger.
Beersheba will be just as desperate for a Beter win, with the southerners currently only two points clear of the relegation zone.
Hapoel Rishon Lezion’s hopes of survival took another hefty blow on Saturday with a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
Ramat Hasharon was 2-0 ahead after just four minutes thanks to goals from Tomer Swisa (3) and Ognjen Damjanovic (4), and any hope Rishon was given by David Gomez’s goal in the 17th minute, was quickly extinguished by another Damjanovic strike (29).
Gal Barel (65) and Baruch Dego (70) piled the misery on Rishon in the second half, with Moshe Ben-Lulu’s 90thminute goal bringing little cheer to the despondent Rishon.
Rock-bottom Hapoel Petah Tikva may no longer have any realistic hope of surviving, but it continued to play with pride on Saturday, coming back from two goals down to beat Hapoel Acre 3-2 on the road.
Stefan Scepovic (43) and Sintiyahu Salalik (46) put Acre in pole position, but goals from Shahar Balilti (50) and Armon Ben-Naim (58) leveled the score and Dominique Wassi’s winner in the third minute of stoppage time gave Petah Tikva a dramatic win.