After just one season in the Premier League, Hapoel Ramat Gan was officially relegated yesterday after losing 2-1 to fellow strugglers Hapoel Acre.
Despite getting his team to play occasionally skillful and attractive soccer, veteran coach Eli Cohen saw it fall apart in the last few rounds of matches, picking up just one point in its last three games.
After the game Cohen, who twice won the league title as a player with Maccabi Netanya, described relegation as “the hardest moment in my career and major blow for this soccer club.” He insisted, however, that his team had played well all season but had failed to turn some good performances into victories. “We have some highly technical players and we know how to play the ball from foot-to-foot. We attacked more than our opponents but we just couldn’t get the ball in the net. We have paid dearly for our mistakes.”
Next week’s final round of games will determine who joins Ramat Gan in the second division.
Maccabi Netanya gave itself a lifeline by turning around a 1-0 deficit against Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium in the capital, recording a vitally important 3-1 victory. Netanya will secure its place in next season’s Premier League if it beats Hapoel Be’er Sheva in next week’s final round of games. Even a draw could be enough for Netanya, if one of the two teams directly above − Bnei Sakhnin and Acre − only manages a draw.
In the other games, Beitar Jerusalem faces a tough road match against Sakhnin and Hapoel Haifo hosts Hapoel Acre. With two points separating Haifa in eighth place and Netanya in 13th, any one of six teams could join Ramat Gan in the second division.
In other games yesterday Hapoel Be’er Sheva defeated Hapoel Haifa, 2-0, and Ashdod secured its survival with a 1-1 draw against Sakhnin.
In the one championship playoff game that was played yesterday, outgoing champion Kiryat Shmona was beaten at home by Bnei Yehuda, which still has a good chance of finishing the season in third place − which would give it a ticket into next season’s Europa League.
In the second division, meanwhile, Maccabi Petah Tivka − cheered on by more than 3,000 fans − inched ever closer to promotion with a 3-0 victory over city rival Hapoel. In fact, if Hapoel Ra’anana had not won its game − a 3-1 victory over Upper Nazareth, Maccabi would already be celebrating its quick return to the top flight.