After nine years in the top flight of Israeli soccer, Maccabi Netanya was last night relegated to the second division, after a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
At the start of yesterday’s final round of games, six teams − Bnei Sakhnin, Beitar Jerusalem, Hapoel Haifa, Hapoel Acre, Netanya and Be’er Sheva − could have found themselves joining already-relegated Hapoel Ramat Gan in making the drop.
Netanya and Be’er Sheva both knew that victory would save them from relegation − irrespective of the results from other matches − but it was the team from the Negev that dealt better with the pressure. Dovev Gabay in particular had the game of his career for Be’er Sheva, scoring two goals and leading his team by example.
The first came in the 29th minute, when the 25-year-old striker hit an unstoppable free kick from outside the penalty box, which slammed into the underside of the Netanya crossbar and nestled in the back of the next.
With Netanya shell-shocked, Be’er Sheva’s second goal duly arrived in 34th minute. Another free kick was blocked by the Netanya wall, but fell kindly for midfielder Sirag Nasr, whose curling shot eluded the Netanya keeper.
Be’er Sheva saved the best for last, however. Midway through the second half, Gabay picked up the ball on his own half-way line, skipped lightly past two Netanya challenges, overcame a third by playing the ball between the defender’s legs and them slotted home from 20 meters.
After the game, Netanya coach Reuven Atar admitted that his team had not done enough to stay up.
We looked terrible,” he said. “I am hugely disappointed that this team − which I love and which has such enormous potential − is being relegated. It really hurts. Be’er Sheva was much better than us from the first minute.”
Asked about the team’s fans, who did not stop encouraging their team throughout the same, Atar said that “the Premier League will miss Netanya and its fans. I hope that we can bounce straight back up and that this time next year we’ll be celebrating promotion.”
For Be’er Sheva owner, Alona Barkat, it was a day of mixed feelings. “It was an incredibly tense and difficult day,” she said, “but I am just disappointed that we couldn’t play this way throughout the whole season. Anyone who saw the amazing support of the fans knows that Hapoel Be’er Sheva is an asset to the Premier League. I don’t have any fingernails left, but I am pleased that we got the win we so richly deserved.”
In other games − the results of which, in the end, did not matter − Beitar Jerusalem clung on for a 0-0 draw against Sakhnin, despite the dismissal of Chechen forward Zaur Sadayev, while Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Acre drew 1-1. In the day’s early game, Ashdod beat relegated Ramat Gan 2-1, while newly crowned league champion Maccabi Tel Aviv was too good for last season’s champion, Kiryat Shmona, winning 1-0 at the Bloomfield Stadium.