A dubious penalty and a goal scored from a marginal offside position secured a win for Maccabi Tel Aviv against Maccabi Netanya last night, as Hapoel Tel Aviv could only manage a third consecutive draw, against Hapoel Haifa.

Eliran Atar scored his 14th goal of the season from the penalty spot after three minutes, even though television replays were indecisive whether a foul should have indeed been rewarded. Netanya equalized in the 34th minute, when Yossi Shivhon threaded an inviting pass into the box, allowing Dragan Ceran to score.

Both teams were close to scoring in the second half, but as the clock ticked on Netanya's players seemed weary, and eventually Maharan Radi found substitute Robert Earnshaw, who scored the winner from an offside position in the 77th minute. Maccabi's fans, naturally, celebrated en masse, but the club's coaching staff must be aware that, at this point in time, Maccabi leads the league not due to its quality, but rather for lack of serious competition.

Earlier yesterday, Hapoel Tel Aviv seemed on their way to an easy victory in Haifa against Hapoel, leading 2-0 after 25 minutes. The first goal was the result of a delicious one-touch attack, involving Omer Damari and Tal Ben Haim, who crossed for Toto Tamuz to head home. Five minutes later, veteran captain Walid Badir rushed in to head home a Roei Gordana corner, and at that stage the Tel Aviv reds could have scored more, but spurned several sitters.

Hapoel Haifa fans were already calling for the sacking of coach Nir Klinger, but his decision to introduce Gay Tzarfati changed the game in the second half. Tzarfati converted two penalties in the 56th and 83rd minutes, leaving Hapoel TA coach Yossi Abukasis steaming at referee Eitan Tabrizi. In post games interviews, Abukasis found it hard to contain his rage, but TV replays proved that both penalty decisions were correct.

Elsewhere, SC Ashdod continued its freefall with a 1-2 loss to Bnei Sakhnin, while Hapoel Ramat Gan - following on the back of its heroic 2-2 draw with Hapoel Tel Aviv last week - beat Bnei Yehuda 1-0. Ironi Ramat Hasharon beat Hapoel Acre 2-0, and is now placed sixth.