Derby Joy for Champion-elect Maccabi

With six games left to play − including another Tel Aviv derby in the penultimate round of games − Maccabi still has a 10-point advantage over second-placed Maccabi Haifa.

Maccabi Tel Aviv moved another step closer to its first Premier League title in a decade Saturday, thanks to a comfortable 2-0 victory over local rival Hapoel Tel Aviv.

With six games left to play − including another Tel Aviv derby in the penultimate round of games − Maccabi still has a 10-point advantage over second-placed Maccabi Haifa, which looks set to snag a place in next season’s Europa League.

Former Hapoel player Eran Zahavi gave Maccabi the lead in the 32nd minute, slamming home a 10-meter volley from a perfect cross by Dor Micha. The roles were reversed for Maccabi’s second goal, which came on the hour mark. Zahavi sent a long, hopeful ball sailing over the midfield and when the Hapoel defense failed to clear the danger, Micha took full advantage to slot home past a helpless goalie.

Second-placed Maccabi Haifa, meanwhile, needed a late winner to overcome outgoing league champion Kiryat Shmona at home. The visiting team took the lead on the half-hour mark through Adrian Rochet, but Haifa leveled through Hen Erza two minutes before halftime. Dekel Keinan gave the Greens a 2-1 lead in the 58th minute, but Shir Tzedek equalized in the 72nd minute. Just when it appeared that the game was slipping out of reach for Haifa, however, Shlomi Azulay − who spend the 2011 season on loan at Kiryat Shmona − scored the winner to keep Haifa’s theoretical chances of winning the title alive.

In the day’s early game, Bnei Yehuda recorded a convincing 3-0 road win over Ramat Hasharon.

In the relegation playoffs, meanwhile, there was late heartbreak for Maccabi Netanya, after Pieter Mbemba scored a last-minute equalizer for Bnei Sakhnin to deny Netanya the win that would have lifted it out of the relegation zone. Ali El-Khatib had given the home team the lead six minutes earlier.

Elsewhere, Hapoel Ramat Gan also remained in the drop zone after a 1-0 loss away to Hapoel Haifa, while Ashdod was beaten 2-0 by Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Hapoel Acre has the chance to put daylight between itself and the teams in the drop zone when it faces Beitar Jerusalem tomorrow. 

Sharon Bukov