Coach Arik Benado wasn't pleased with Maccabi Haifa's display last night, but he can put his mind to setting things right after a third consecutive victory, 1-0 against Maccabi Netanya at Kiryat Eliezer. Benado's predecessor, former team-mate Reuven Atar, could only manage one win in his first nine games, and fell out with club captain, Yaniv Katan, who scored last night's winning goal from the penalty spot, after Netanya defender Ido Levy, fouled Shlomi Azulay in the box.
Netanya was unfortunate to have Serbian Dragan Ceran sent off after handling the ball in the 49th minute. Instead of going for the kill, Haifa sat back on their lead, and Netanya was closer to equalizing than Haifa from doubling the score.
Coach Tal Banin punished two of his players, Omer Peretz and vice-captain Kobi Dejani for fighting during practice, and left them out of the squad. Maccabi Haifa's next game will be Benado's sternest test yet, as his team meets league leaders, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Benado has already acknowledged it would be "a completely different opera." Haifa are now far enough from the relegation zone - with 17 points - to start thinking about the upper part of the table.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva seemed to have turned the corner. After a slow start to the season, and no less than seven draws in the first ten games, Elisha Levy's charges grabbed their third consecutive victory in Ramat Hasharon. Oded Gavish headed in the only goal of the game in the 37th minute, after a Aviram Baruchyan cross. Be'er Sheva is now placed 5th in the table with 19 points.
The two teams at the rock-bottom of the league, Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Ramat Gan, could only manage a 1-1 draw that left both sides frustrated. Ramat Gan was the better side in the first half, and Yisrael Zaguri scored in the 11th minute, after brilliantly getting around several Haifa defenders. Maharan Lala equalized from the penalty spot in the 29th minute. Haifa coach Nir Klinger saw his team assume control in the second half, but couldn't make it count. "A team in our situation must take advantage of our opportunities," he said after the game, refusing to comment on his chances of surviving the season.
Ashdod SC, who seemed to be in the leading pack, with Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv, is now five points off the pace. After losing to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday, Ashdod slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Bnei Yehuda. Pedro Galban, who spent a considerable amount of time on the bench this season, scored both goals, the first from a penalty in the 17th minute, and the second, 18 minutes from time with a beautiful finish from the corner of the 16 yard box.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, who beat Academica of Portugal in its final Europa League game on Thursday, will host Hapoel Acre tonight, knowing that a win will take them to the top of the table - at least until Maccabi Tel Aviv play Beitar Jerusalem tomorrow night. Also tomorrow - Bnei Sakhnin against Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
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