Derby Joy for Champion-elect Maccabi

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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. 

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Dor Micha, left, chasing Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Shimon Harush in the derby match Saturday.Credit: Sharon Bukov