Top three win as playoffs begin

Mac Haifa sinks Ashdod, De Ridder gives Hap TA victory over Bnei Yehuda; Mac TA smashes Betar.

hapoel tel aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
hapoel tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa was knocked off its perch for couple of hours as the playoffs commenced on Saturday, but after a Daniel de Ridder goal had given Hapoel Tel Aviv a 1-0 win against Bnei Yehuda, the Greens showed some steely resilience to regain top spot with a 3-1 home victory against Ashdod.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv kicked off its playoff campaign in style with an emphatic 3-0 victory at home to Betar, boosting its chances of European qualification.
There was rip-roaring relegation-playoff drama Saturday afternoon at Kiryat Eliezer, meanwhile, where hosts Hapoel Haifa and Ahi Nazareth were separated by a 2-2 draw. The visitors took the lead on the hour through Tomer Hemed, but Haifa thought it had snatched the win late on through Eden Ben-Basat and Yero Bello – only for Nazareth ’keeper Joslain Mayebi to come up for a corner and score a dramatic 95th-minute equalizer.
In the other bottom-six matches, Hapoel Acre won 2-1 at Hapoel Petah Tikva, while Hapoel Ramat Gan against Hapoel Ra’anana finished goalless.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Beersheba annihilated Maccabi Netanya 4-0, while Bnei Sakhnin beat Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-0.
Maccabi Haifa 3, Ashdod SC 1
It was a nervous start by Haifa, with the players clearly feeling the pressure after Hapoel’s earlier victory, and it wasn’t until Gustavo Boccoli shaved the bar in the 30th minute that the reigning champions began to create chances.
The Brazilian then slid in Lior Rafaelov, whose weak effort was saved by Dragan Stojkic, and the Bosnian stopper was then equal to Yaniv Katan’s bullet header.
Boccoli broke the deadlock two minutes before the break, picking the ball up at the edge of the box before sidestepping Cristian Golzalez and rifling a shot into the bottom corner.
Half a minute after the restart, Haifa coach Elisha Levy must have felt a huge weight lifting off his shoulders when Vladimir Dvalishvili sent an absolute cracker into the top corner from 30 yards to break his 10–game goal drought.
Idan Sade pulled one back for Ashdod from the penalty spot four minutes from time, but Shlomi Arbeitman latched on to Rafaleov’s pass and bagged his 27th goal of the season in injury-time to seal the victory and put Haifa back on top of the league.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 3, Betar Jerusalem 0
It took just 17 seconds for Maccabi Tel Aviv to go in front. Eliran Danin lost the ball to Maor Buzaglo on the left and striker sent in a cross-cum-shot which beat Ariel Harush at his near post.
Maccabi were displaying plenty of attacking verve and doubled the lead on the half-hour. Arik Benado lost the ball in the middle, Buzaglo sent Emmanuel Mayuka away, and the Zambian sped clear before teeing up Yuval Avidor to poke the ball beyond Harush .
Maccabi went down to 10 men just past the hour mark when Igor
Tomasic picked up his second yellow card for a late tackle on Avi Reikan. But Danin soon followed the Croat into the early bath for upending Guillermo Israelevic on the touchline after already being cautioned.
Avi Nimni’s men wrapped up the win in stunning fashion five minutes from time. Substitute Tamir Kahlon spun past Tomer Ben-Yosef and chipped the ball to fellow replacement Ori Shitrit, who guided a wonderful volley into the corner from 12 yards.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 1, Bnei Yehuda 0
After having terrible luck with injuries since joining Hapoel, few would begrudge De Ridder his wining goal, and coach Eli Gutman said as much when he maintained that “there is no one happier than me” for the Dutchman.
However, Hapoel was made to work hard for the victory, having been put under intense first-half pressure by a lively Bnei Yehuda and playing much of the game with ten men.
Bnei Yehuda’s Colombian defender Ivan Garrido was off target early onwhen he got on the end of Maharan Radi’s corner, before Eliran Atarheaded the midfielder’s free-kick wide.
Zurab Menteshashvili was sent off on the half-hour for pulling back OzRali when already on a yellow card, and the hosts had ’keeper VincentEnyeama to thank for keeping them on level terms after the Nigerianmade a double save to deny the speedy Atar.
But Gutman’s men came out for the second-half flying, taking the lead aminute after the restart. Eran Zehavi chipped a pinpoint pass to ItaiShechter, who powered down the left and cut the ball back to de Ridderto drive the ball in.
Rali was sent off in the closing stages for an appalling high challengeon Yehuda Hota, making Hapoel’s task of holding on for the crucialvictory all the more easier.