Hapoel Acre striker Lanry Kahinda (right) celebrates after scoring his second goal in last night’s 2-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After seven years in the Premier League, Hapoel Acre was relegated on Monday, being edged by Hapoel Haifa and Ironi Kiryat Shmona in a dramatic final day in the battle against demotion to the National League.
All three teams had their fates in their own hands entering Monday, knowing that if they won they would stay up regardless of other results.
None of the sides ended up triumphing, with Hapoel Acre and Kiryat Shmona drawing 1-1, while Haifa also drew by the same score-line against Bnei Yehuda.
That meant Acre remained in 13th place due to its inferior goal difference compared to Haifa (-21 to -10) and will join rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya in relegation to the second division.
Kiryat Shmona only needed a draw on Monday and was well placed after Austin Amutu headed in the opener in Acre in the 16th minute.
Bnei Yehuda had nothing to play for in Haifa, but Amir Agajev gave the visitors the lead in the 53rd minute, handing Acre a lifeline.
However, Acre found itself needing two goals once more after Shlomi Arbeitman’s clinical effort equalized for Haifa in the 76th minute.
Belgian Dylan Seys got one of those goals, leveling the score in Acre in the 90th minute, but the hosts couldn’t find a winner and ended the night in bitter disappointment.
The last time Acre was relegated back in 1978 it took it 31 years to return to the Premier League.
“This is very disappointing. I’m really sad for the club and the fans,” said Acre coach Momi Zafran, who was only appointed in place of Yaron Hochenboim ahead of the final two matches of the season. “We need to rebuild in the National League and return to the top flight.
We could have stayed up today which makes this all the more heartbreaking.
I’m certain this club will return to the Premier League.”
Kiryat Shmona coach Shlomi Dora will not be back next season, with owner Izzy Sheratzky confirming he will make a change despite the club’s survival and the coach’s wish to continue.
“This releases a lot of pressure,” said Dora, who began the season at Netanya before being sacked last November and joining Kiryat Shmona in February.
“I’m happy that we did our job when it mattered most and stayed up without any favors from other teams.”
Kiryat Shmona never expected to find itself tangled up in the fight against relegation. Despite its mediocre budget and small fan base, Kiryat Shmona picked up four trophies in the past six years, including an historic Premier League championship in 2011/12, while going on a five-year run of finishing no lower than fifth in the league standings.
Haifa coach Eli Cohen began the season at Bnei Sakhnin before being fired last December and joining Hapoel Haifa a month later. Haifa stayed up despite winning just seven of 33 matches this season, with six of those wins coming against the relegated Acre and Netanya.
“This might be the sweetest draw of my career,” Cohen said on Monday.
“We were in a very tough situation.
The players deserve a lot of credit and I’m delighted.”