Leader Maccabi Haifa held by Hapoel Nof Hagalil

Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Nof Hagalil played to a surprising 1-1 draw over the weekend as the two sides split the points at Sammy Ofer Stadium.

Dean David opened the scoring for Haifa as Muhammed Abu Fani sent the striker a magnificent through-ball to give the Greens a 1-0 lead at the halftime whistle.

In the 67th minute, Eli Balilty was handed his second yellow card of the game, reducing visiting Nof Hagalil to 10-men. However, Abdallah Khlaikhal found himself all alone in front of the Haifa goal and scored the equalizer to give each squad a point apiece.

“I’m going to blame only myself for the preparation, substitutes and game management,” a disappointed Haifa coach Barak Bachar said following the draw. “This is like a loss for me and everyone has responsibility, but I have the most. I had to make a pair of subs at halftime and react as if the game was 0-0 and not 1-0 in our favor.”

“I brought on a striker when we went down to 10-men because sometimes there is karma,” Nof Hagalil coach Shay Barda explained. “We didn’t deserve to lose this game and we really pressed them hard in the first half which we knew would help us in keeping their chances to a minimum. We took a point on the road in front of 30,000 fans.”

Maccabi Haifa players celebrating. (credit: MAOR ELKASLASI)

At the diamond city, Maccabi Netanya downed Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-1 as Benny Lam’s squad continued its fine play and almost assured itself of a spot in the Championship Playoffs.

After a goalless first half, Eden Kartsev sent a gorgeous ball from 25 meters out behind Dziugas Bartkus to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute.

However, Morgan Ferrier slotted home the tying goal 20 minutes later, stunning the home crowd.

But in the 76th minute Parfait Guiagon was yanked down in the box good for a penalty that Igor Zlatanovic easily scored from the spot to see Netanya retake the lead.

Guiagon then assisted on Patrick Twumasi’s goal just a couple of minutes later to secure the three points for Lam’s team.

“It’s really satisfying to see how the fans really were with us all game,” Lam commented. “They deserve the compliments as we played a very mediocre game, but they were the ones that really pushed the team to the win. When I see the love and respect that the players give one another it makes me look back to when I played with the Netanya greats.”

“Soccer is a game of centimeters,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Slobodan Drapic. “I don’t think that Netanya was that much better than us, but their players were able to find a way to take the win. I’m content as to how we played and we will have to earn points to make sure we take in order to stay away from relegation.”

Down south, Hapoel Beersheba scored three unanswered goals to defeat Hapoel Haifa 3-1.

Gal Arel opened the scoring for the Carmel Reds in the 20th minute, but Nikita Rukavytsya scored a quick brace to give the southerners a 2-1 advantage by the break.

Rotem Hatuel then added an insurance marker in the 78th minute to wrap up the three points and the win for Beersheba’s new head coach Elyaniv Barda.

“The energy from the fans help take the team sky high,” Barda said following the game. “They are our 12th man. The guys came back from a deficit and to do that after 120 minutes in the State Cup isn’t something simple. They gave it their all.”

“We began the game well and had some good minutes in the second half as well,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “But we lost our focus and gave up some easy goals. You can’t beat Beersheba at their home stadium when you give up goals like that.”

In the Galilee, Bnei Sakhnin slipped by Hapoel Hadera 1-0 as it moved close to punching its ticket to the Championship Playoffs.

Sakhnin got a second-half goal by Dutch right back Fabian Sporkslede as he made his way past three defenders to score the decisive marker and take the three points.

“It’s a great feeling to come into a packed stadium with our fans just cheering us on,” Sakhin coach Haim Silvas said. “We played against a super tough team and one that is very hard to score against. We knew we would need patience and we controlled the game throughout and scored a beautiful goal.”

“I don’t believe that the pressure of the game got to us because we came to play,” Hadera coach Menachem Koretzky commented. “We may not have had some great chances and the game could have gone either way. I’m very disappointed for my players as they worked so hard.”

At Bloomfield Stadium, Hapoel Tel Aviv nipped Hapoel Jerusalem 1-0 on a Shlomi Azulay penalty to keep the Reds in contention for a Championship Playoff spot.

“This wasn’t a well-played game by our team,” Tel Aviv coach Kobi Refuah said. “But sometimes you need to know how to win these games by the skin of your teeth. I’m not happy with this game, but we won which is the most important thing. We were under a lot of pressure and now we head into the lead game of the regular season with our destiny in our own hands.”

“I want to talk about soccer, but I can’t not discuss the referees,” Jerusalem coach Ziv Arie began. “This referee made a mistake against us a number of games ago but we were able to win despite this. Hapoel Tel Aviv wouldn’t have scored without the penalty.”

Elsewhere, Maccabi Petah Tikva defeated Ashdod SC 4-3 as Ido Shachar scored a brace to help the club move out of the league’s basement in what was a goalfest by the port city.

Lameck Banda gave Nir Klinger’s squad a quick 1-0 lead, but Tom Ben Zaken drew Ran Ben Shimon’s team even with a penalty at the stroke of halftime.

The visitors came out of the break on fire as Ion Niolaescu gave Petah Tikva the lead, and soon thereafter Shachar scored a pair of goals to go up 4-1 in the 66th minute.

However, the hosts kept plugging away as Muhammed Kna’an scored from outside the box and Dimitris Diamantakos added a 90th-minute penalty, but it was too little, too late for Ashdod to find a way to steal a point.

“It feels great and I am happy that we won and that I scored two goals,” Shachar said following the game. “We finally moved out of the relegation zone and that’s very important. I am doing what I know how to do and I am happy that I’ve been successful.”