Soccer / Premier League / Maccabi Haifa Rolls Toward Top of Table

New league leader Hapoel Tel Aviv flattered by 3-0 scoreline at Bnei Sakhnin.

It is hard to imagine that, only a few weeks ago, Maccabi Haifa was languishing dangerously close to the relegation zone. Since Arik Benado took over coaching duties from former team favorite Reuven Atar less than two months ago, the team cannot stop winning and now stands in third place in the Premier League table, breathing down the necks of the two Tel Aviv teams.

appeared to put the hosts ahead at Haifa's Kiryat Eliezer stadium in the seventh minute, but the goal was disallowed for a questionable handball. Then Hapoel Acre, who was otherwise anonymous on the field, took a surprise lead in the 22nd minute through Mahran Abu Raiya. But Haifa equalized on the hour with a well-taken goal by Hen Ezra.

Haifa's obvious superiority had to produce a second goal, which eventually came after 74 minutes after Idan Vered somehow missed from a meter out, only for Amashe to backheel the rebound with the type of self-confidence that would have made Denis Law proud. Ezra scored the third 10 minutes later at the second attempt, after Acre goalkeeper David Goresh had parried his original shot back at him.

Hapoel Tel Aviv leapfrogged crosstown rivals Maccabi into top place, but was flattered by the 3-0 scoreline at Bnei Sakhnin's Doha Stadium. Omer Damari put the visitors ahead after seven minutes following an embarrassing defensive mix-up by the hosts. But Hapoel Tel Aviv failed to make an impression for the rest of the first half.

Five minutes after the break, Tal Ben Haim showed his teammates how to score with a cool dribble thorough the Sakhnin defense before slicing the ball between goalkeeper Mahmud Kannadil's legs. Ten minutes from the end, Ben Haim showed them how again, drifting past several defenders and releasing a sweet diagonal shot that rebounded in off the post.

Sakhnin midfielder Mohammed Kalibat rubbed salt into the home fans' wounds by getting himself sent off for a vicious tackle in the game's dying minutes.

Improving Maccabi Netanya won its second successive game, beating Ashdod, which started the season well but now looks like fighting to fend off relegation, 2-0. Ali El-Khatib put the hosts ahead with a powerful free-kick from 18 meters that caught Ashdod goalkeeper Ofir Martziano napping. In the second half Firas Mugrabi set up Kobi Dajani.

Ashdod coach Yossi Mizrachi benched two of his underperforming stars, David Revivo and Dimitar Makriev, but brought them on in the second half after his team fell behind. However, Revivo still contrived to miss a penalty.

Last season's surprise champion, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, could only draw against a determined Hapoel Haifa outfit, and now looks unlikely to catch the two Tel Aviv teams at the top of the table. Kiryat Shmona took the lead soon after the break through substitute Sintayehu Sallalich, who is on loan from Maccabi Haifa. But Hapoel Haifa equalized within minutes through Ran Abukarat.

Ramat Hasharon upset Bnei Yehuda 2-1, after falling behind to an early goal. Amir Nusbaum was Ramat Hasharon's hero, scoring the equalizer, then setting up Efraim Taka for the winner five minutes before the full-time whistle.

Sharon Bokov