Title beckons for Hapoel TA after battering Ashdod

Hapoel Haifa secures top-flight status with win over Ra’anana; shoddy Betar J’lem beaten by Bnei Yehuda.

Hapoel TelAviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel TelAviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After winning last week’s epic encounter against Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv remained on course for a league and cup double with a fabulous 4-0 win over Ashdod at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
And with things very much in the Reds’ hands due to a superior goal difference to second-placed Haifa, few would bet against them winning their first league title in 10 years.
Haifa travels to Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday, and anything but a win for Elisha Levy’s Greens’ will all but end their hopes of winning a league they have led for so much of the season.
The red half of Haifa, meanwhile, was celebrating on Saturday night after Hapoel Haifa secured its top flight status with a 1-0 win against Hapoel Ra’anana in the relegation playoffs.
The all-important goal came on 59 minutes from the inspirational Eran Levy. Ran Abukarat sent Gal Harel down the right, and his cross found Haifa’s burly midfield man, who unleashed a drive which Shaul Smadja could only parry into the net.
Elsewhere in the battle to avoid relegation, Awudu Okocha (25), Shahar Siman Tov (46) and Roi Dayan (62) found the net for Hapoel Acre in a 3-1 win over Ahi Nazareth, for whom Guy Dayan (85) scored a consolation. And Hapoel Ramat Gan sank deeper into trouble following a 2-1 defeat at Hapoel Petah Tikva.
Also Saturday, Betar Jerusalem lost ground in the hunt for a European place with a 2-0 home defeat to Bnei Yehuda, and will be officially out of the running should Maccabi Tel Aviv win on Monday.
In the last round of mid-table playoff matches, Netanya beat Sakhnin 2-0 thanks to goals by Ahmed Saba’a (17) and Omer Ben-Harush (22).
Hapoel Tel Aviv 4, Ashdod SC 0  
A beaming Eli Gutman stressed that it wasn’t time to celebrate yet, but to simply “enjoy a victory” against “a difficult opponent.”
But even Gutman must admit that next week’s derby will be a far more formidable test for his side than playing against an Ashdod side which appeared to have more than half an eye on this week’s State Cup semifinal versus Bnei Yehuda.
Ashdod’s Amir Levin fired dangerously close to Vincent Enyeama’s right-hand post in the opening minutes, but the early scare just seemed to rouse Hapoel, with Gutman’s men taking the lead in the eighth minute.
The goal came courtesy of a combination by two defenders, with right-back Dedi Ben-Dayan playing a one-two with Brazilian center-half Douglas Da Silva and deftly chipping the ball over Dragan Stojkic.
Hapoel was in the ascendancy and deservedly got the second on 31 minutes thanks again to two more players used to plying their trade at the other end.
The instrumental Gili Vermut poked the ball through to da Silva, whose cross was headed home by the diving Walid Badier.
Enyeama tipped over an Idan Shriki strike in a strong Ashdod start to the second period, but as in the first-half, the chance only appeared to awaken Hapoel, with the hosts getting a third on 66 minutes.
Vermut’s threaded through-ball caught Stojkic rashly rushing out of his goal to challenge Itai Shechter, but the speedy Hapoel forward beat the ’keeper to the ball and his low cross was turned in by Daniel de Ridder.
A combination of post and Enyeama denied Ashdod a consolation goal through Idan Shriki 10 minutes from time, and instead, man of the match da Silva headed home Shai Abutbul’s free-kick at the death to put a gloss on Hapoel’s victory.
Hapoel Petah Tikva 2, Hapoel Ramat Gan 1.
 Hapoel Petah Tikva went three points clear of the drop zone on Saturday, while after back-to-back defeats, Hapoel Ramat Gan is hovering precariously close to the bottom.
The home side went in front after 22 minutes, with Elnatan Salami nudging in Osman Bashiru’s pass.
Serge Ayeli equalized for Ramat Gan six minutes later, although the goal should never have stood, with the Ivorian well offside when he got on the end of Caldeira’s free-kick.
But the hosts picked themselves up and scored what turned out to be the winner through Bashiru seven minutes before the break, the Ghanaian finishing smartly from a tight angle after Kobi Mousa failed to deal with a Jonathan Assous pass.
Betar Jerusalem 0, Bnei Yehuda 2
Betar is looking a far cry from David Amsalem’s first few weeks at the helm.
The Jerusalem side put it another lackluster performance at Teddy Stadium on Saturday, and its turbulent season – both on and off the pitch – seems like it will end with a whimper.
After a dire first-half, Bnei Yehuda took the lead six minutes afterthe interval. Eliran Atar’s back-heel found Assi Baldout, and themidfielder’s cross-cum-shot crept in at the far post.
The away side sealed the win 16 minutes from time, with Moshe Biton finishing off a neat move involving Kfir Edri and Oz Rali.
Kiryat Shmona clinches promotion
On Friday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona was promoted to the Premier League justone season after being relegated, defeating Ness Ziona 1-0. RanBen-Shimon’s men need a single point from their last two matches toclinch the National League title.
Hapoel Ashkelon took a significant step towards the top-flight onFriday, beating Hapoel Kfar Saba 2-1 to leapfrog it into secondposition in the standings.