Since scoring in four straight Premier League matches, Hapoel Beersheba forward Anthony Nwakaeme has found the back of the net only once in six league games entering tonight’s State Cup round-of-16 tie against Ironi Kiryat Shmona..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With its Premier League title defense hitting an unexpected bump in the road, Hapoel Beersheba needs to shift its focus to the State Cup on Tuesday night, aiming to keep alive its bid for the local treble.
Beersheba is looking to join the Maccabi Tel Aviv side of 2014/15 as the only teams to claim the championship, State Cup and Toto Cup in a single season, with the reigning champion already securing the latter title earlier in the campaign.
A second straight championship seemed like a forgone conclusion when Beersheba held a 10-point gap at the top several weeks ago.
However, Maccabi closed within six points on Sunday to breathe new life into the title race, and before Beersheba tries to get its league campaign back on track when it hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday, the league leader welcomes the Northerners in a tricky round-of-16 contest at Turner Stadium on Tuesday.
Beersheba is coming off a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva, conceding a 90th-minute equalizer. After looking unstoppable during a nine-match winning streak in the league, Barak Bachar’s team has seemed vulnerable over recent weeks, triumphing in only two of six games.
The frustrating results have also been accompanied by unrest in the dressing room, with Maor Buzaglo missing the match against Maccabi Haifa due to his social media outburst against coach Bachar.
Captain Elyaniv Barda will miss Tuesday’s cup game through a club suspension, being punished after storming off the field on Saturday. Barda was upset at being told to warm up, but ultimately not entering the match off the bench.
“No one will be able to create a rift between myself and Hapoel Beersheba,” Barda wrote on Facebook. “Together we reached great achievements, together we overcame difficulties and together we realized dreams... I accept this punishment and will continue to work hard and prove my worth on the pitch.”
Kiryat Shmona was on the losing end in both of its previous meetings against Beersheba this season, 2-0 in league action back in October and 4-1 in the Toto Cup final last month. Tomer Kashtan’s team enters Tuesday’s showdown in excellent form though, losing just one of its past nine league matches to climb up to fourth place.
In the day’s other all-Premier League encounter, Hapoel Tel Aviv, which is far more concerned with its battle against relegation, hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva, which sits in third place, owning an eight-match unbeaten run in the league.
Also Tuesday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League, while Hapoel Jerusalem welcomes Hapoel Ramat Gan in the only all-National League tie of the round.
On Wednesday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Hapoel Ra’anana, Hapoel Ashkelon welcomes Bnei Yehuda and Ashdod SC faces Beitar Tel Aviv/Ramle of the second division.
On TV: State Cup round-of-16: Hapoel Tel Aviv vs Maccabi Petah Tikva / Hapoel Haifa vs Hapoel Rishon Lezion / Hapoel Jerusalem vs Hapoel Ramat Gan (live on Sport5 at 7 p.m.); Hapoel Beersheba vs Ironi Kiryat Shmona (live on Sport5+Live at 8:50 p.m.)