With Kiryat Shmona running off with the title in midwinter, the relegation play-offs that kicked off on Saturday were more riveting than the games in the top half that, at best, could secure Europa League spots.
And the bottom-half teams certainly were up to it. Hapoel Petah Tikva, for example, would probably still have been hoping to remain in the Premier League had it not been docked nine points before the season began - and it still came back from a 2-0 deficit to grab a 90th-minute winner against Hapoel Acre.
Ironi Ramat Hasharon scored twice in the first four minutes on its way to a 5-2 rout of Rishon Letzion, which after a short renaissance is back to its miserable self and will probably join Hapoel Petah Tikva in the Leumit League come August.
The day's most significant game was played in Haifa where Hapoel Haifa met Hapoel Be'er Sheva in a cruncher of sorts, with both teams being marginally above the relegation zone. After 30 dismal minutes Hapoel Haifa's Hanan Maman, son of Maccabi Haifa legend Baruch Maman, produced two moments of magic that sealed the deal. First he twisted away from three defenders to put a perfect cross for Yuval Avidor to score his fifth goal in as many games, and three minutes later curled a majestic free kick to where the sun don't shine. Be'er Sheva pulled one back just before halftime, but couldn't manage an equalizer in the second half.
Maccabi Petah Tikva, two points behind Be'er Sheva, will play Beitar Jerusalem tonight.
And what happened in the top half? Maccabi Haifa managed a 2-0 away win at Sakhnin, while Maccabi Netanya continued its good run of form with a 2-0 win against Ashdod. And, yes, there was the small matter of a Tel Aviv derby, played before empty stands as part of Hapoel's punishment because of its fans behavior at the last, bad-tempered derby. This time it was a rather quiet and mild affair, ending with the expected 0-0. After all, Tel Aviv derbies sans 22,000 fans are as dire as sex without, well, sex.
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