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Maccabi leading the way

    Maccabi Haifa ended the first round of 15 Ligat Ha'al matches two points clear of rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv at the top of the 16-team league. Haifa beat Maccabi Netanya 3-0 at Kiryat Eliezer with goals from Tomer Hemed, Eyal Meshumar and Vladimir Dabashvili.

    Defending champions Hapoel Tel Aviv kept the pressure on Haifa with a 4-0 win over bottom team Hapoel Ramat Gan at Bloomfield with goals from Ben Sahar, Toto Tamuz, Douglas Da Silva and Shai Abutbul.

    Brazilian defender Da Silva was making his last appearance for Hapoel. He signed a five-year deal with Red Bull Salzburg on Monday and Hapoel will receive a transfer fee of €2.65 million for the central defender who impressed the Austrian champions when Hapoel knocked them out in the playoff round of the Champions League in August.

    Maccabi Tel Aviv moved up to third place with a 1-0 away win at Hapoel Beer Sheva while early front-runners Hapoel Kiryat Shmona slipped down to fourth after losing 1-0 at Betar Jerusalem.

    Hapoel Akko, another surprise package this season, climbed to fifth with a narrow victory at Bnei Sakhnin.

    John Gregory, the former Aston Villa manager, has eased the pressure on his position at MS Ashdod following back-to-back wins.

    Gregory looked set to be sacked earlier this month but a surprise win at Hapoel Tel Aviv followed by a 3-2 win over Hapoel Ashkelon has lifted Ashdod to ninth place.

    But the pressure mounts on Dror Kashtan after Bnei Yehuda slipped to 12th following a 3-0 defeat at Maccabi Petach Tikvah. Bnei Yehuda fans have been calling on the former Israel manager to resign.

    There will be no games this weekend as Israel's foreign players are allowed to return home for the holidays. Action resumes on new year's day with Maccabi Haifa hosting Maccabi Tel Aviv.

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