Yellow-and-blue closes in on the big boys

Hap TA, Mac Haifa ready for marquee matchup at Bloomfield; Betar falls again.

hapoel petah tikva_311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel petah tikva_311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Hapoel Ashkelon 4-2 on Saturday evening to close on Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv ahead of their showdown at Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday night, while Betar Jerusalem looks set to battle against relegation until the end of the season after dropping to yet another defeat.
The yellow-and-blue led 2-0 after 14 minutes in Ashkelon, but the hosts tied the score in the 66th minute and Maccabi needed two goals in seven minutes to claim all three points.
“We turned an easy match into a difficult one,” said Tel Aviv coach Moti Ivanir, who has won five of seven league matches since taking charge. “We opened an early 2-0 lead, but instead of building on it, we just stopped playing. We started playing again after Ashkelon equalized, but this was far from an impressive performance.”
Maccabi moved to within six points of league-leader Haifa with the victory, with Hapoel Tel Aviv two points back in second position ahead of Sunday’s crunch match.
Coach Eli Gutman, who is still recuperating from the heart attack he suffered over three weeks ago, is not expected to be on the sidelines on Sunday, but surprised his players by showing up for Saturday’s final training session and emphasized the importance of keeping the Haifa players under pressure.
Haifa owner Jacob Shahar spoke to his players on Saturday, as he often does before important matches, hoping to motivate them ahead of the big encounter.
It wasn’t that long ago that Betar Jerusalem was also a part of such matches, but this season all the team’s fans can hope for is to avoid relegation to the National League.
Hapoel Petah Tikva defeated Betar 1-0 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Saturday thanks to Ido Aksebrad’s 44th minute header, leaving Betar in the thick of the relegation battle.
“Our situation continues to deteriorate,” said Betar coach Roni Levy, whose team has gone winless in its last five matches, scoring just a single goal in that stretch.
“Making matters worse is the fact that we lost to a team battling against us in the fight against relegation. We will have a difficult time until the end of the season and we will have to give our all.” In Ashkelon, the visitors got off to an ideal start.
With the match just a minute old, Roberto Colautti found Eliran Atar in the box and he made the most of Ashkelon’s lax defense to give Maccabi an early lead.
Tel Aviv doubled its lead in the 14th minute, with Maor Buzaglo picking out Colautti, who had little trouble slotting in his team’s second goal from close range.
It seemed as though the yellow-andblue would run riot, but once more, Maccabi lost its composure and very nearly dropped points in embarrassing fashion.
Snir Gueta gave the hosts some hope in the 27th minute with a powerful effort from outside the box, ending Ashkelon’s five-match goalless drought.
In the 66th minute, Eric Gawu tied the score, heading in the equalizer from close range.
However, Tel Aviv would regain the lead after less than two minutes.
Haris Medunjanin was given far too much space in the Ashkelon box and he easily beat goalkeeper Stephen Ahorlu.
Seven minutes later, Medunjanin squared the ball for another easy goal for Atar, his 12th of the season, but Maccabi fans were once more left frustrated after another mediocre performance by their team.
Bnei Yehuda continued its recent surge up the standings on Saturday, defeating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium for its fourth victory in the past five matches.
Pedro Galvan gave Dror Kashtan’s men the lead in the 19th minute with a curling free-kick from 20 meters out, but Kiryat Shmona equalized just five minutes later from Shimon Abu Hazeira’s header.
However, Bnei Yehuda went back in front in the 59th minute from Pini Balili’s goal and Galvan secured the three points with a deflected free kick five minutes from time.
An Omer Golan goal four minutes into stoppage time gave Maccabi Petah Tikva a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Haifa, which took the lead in the 56th minute through Amir Abu Nil.
Also Saturday, the matches between Hapoel Acre and Maccabi Netanya, Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hapoel Beersheba and Ashdod SC and Bnei Sakhnin all ended in 0-0 draws.