A new era for Hapoel Tel Aviv opened yesterday with a narrow 2-1 victory in Be’er Sheva, its first win in six Premier League games.

New coach Freddy David, who was appointed earlier this week after Yossi Abukasis was fired last Saturday after a string of poor results, saw his new charges offer a gritty, if mediocre, performance. It only won thanks to a questionable refereeing decision.

Tel Aviv went ahead in the 12th minute, after a comedy of errors in the Hapoel Be’er Sheva defense ended with the ball ricocheting off home defender Oded Gavish’s shin into the net. Reinstated Tel Aviv striker Toto Tamuz had something to prove in this game, and almost put his team two goals ahead after 15 minutes, but his powerful header hit the crossbar.

From that point on the visitors appeared to run out of ideas, and Be’er Sheva gradually dragged itself back into the game.

The hosts were by far the better team in the second half, but could not get that decisive final shot in until the 70th minute, when Tel Aviv goalkeeper Apoula Edel misread Nicolas Falczuk’s attempt and parried the ball straight to the thankful Dovev Gabay, who fired past the hapless goalkeeper to level the score.

With 15 minutes left, Tel Aviv’s Omer Damari ran into two Be’er Sheva defenders in the box and plunged groundward in a successful effort to convince referee Eitan Shmuelevich that he had been fouled. Two incensed home team players were yellow-carded for overaggressively pleading with the referee for justice, before Damari himself strode up to coolly place the penalty kick in the corner of the net.

“We lost this game because of the referee’s mistake,” an understandably angry-looking Be’er Sheva coach Elisha Levy said after the game. “But that’s part of the game − what can we do?”

“I have no complaints about the referee,” David said. “Never mind the tactics − this is a group of men. They fought today. It’s a great honor to be the coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv. It’s a great club.”

League leader Maccabi Tel Aviv was distinctly off form yesterday, but still notched up its fifth successive win to go 11 points clear of Maccabi Haifa at the top of the table.

Eliran Atar scored the only goal of the game at Bloomfield in the 67th minute, after Swedish forward Rade Prica broke through the Ramat Hasharon defense and his shot was blocked, only to roll clear for Atar to poke home from close range.

Maccabi Tel Aviv almost flattered themselves with a second goal in the game’s dying minutes, after veteran forward Roberto Colautti, who had come on as a substitute, rounded the goalkeeper only for his shot to be booted off the line by a Ramat Hasharon defender.

Hapoel Haifa won the northern basement battle with Hapoel Acre 3-1, thanks in part to two own goals by the hosts. Acre defender Edi Gotlieb put through his own net in only the third minute. Serbian midfielder Branislav Jovanovic leveled for Acre seven minutes later, but Haifa’s Montenegran forward Vladimir Gluscevic headed his team ahead in the 24th minute, before Acre’s Serbian defender Srda Knezevic embarrassingly scored his team’s second own goal.

As the players left the field, an argument broke out between Haifa’s Montenegran player Stefan Denkovic and Acre’s Amiya Taga, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, after the latter accused the former of racial abuse.