Drama in the air as Betar visits Mac PT

Relegation at stake for both clubs, Luzon subplot lingers; K8 looks to bounce back vs Acre.

March 9, 2012 00:39
3 minute read.
Betar Jerusalem

Betar 390. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)

Tensions will be running extremely high at the Moshava Stadium in Petah Tikva on Saturday night when Betar Jerusalem visits Maccabi Petah Tikva in a Premier League showdown with numerous implications both on and off the field.

Despite snapping a five-match winless streak by handing league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona its first defeat in 26 games last Saturday, Betar remained in the relegation zone.

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Jerusalem’s 1-0 victory at Teddy Stadium, its first since Eli Cohen replaced Yuval Naim as coach three weeks ago, took it to 28 points, but wins by fellow strugglers Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba meant that the yellow-and-black remained in third-to-last position, which would lead to demotion to the National League at the end of the season.

Petah Tikva is just one point and one place above Betar after picking up just a single point from its past four matches.

Relegation is unthinkable for both Betar and Petah Tikva, with Jerusalem playing in the top flight since 1992, a year less than Petah Tikva’s streak.

As if there wasn’t enough at stake on Saturday, Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein has ensured both sets of fans will be highly strung for the match, attacking the Israel Football Association and its chairman Avi Luzon during the week, claiming that the IFA courts discriminate against Betar as they are trying to protect Petah Tikva, previously run by Luzon and currently owned by his brother.

Betar will be without influential midfielder Kobi Moyal on Saturday, but coach Cohen knows there will be no excuses should his team fall to Petah Tikva.

“You all know the importance of this match,” Cohen told his players on Thursday.

“This match is about a whole lot more than points. Everyone can see that Betar is under attack, but this should unify us and make us stronger and we need to prove that no one can break us.”

Hapoel Beersheba, which is tied on 29 points with Petah Tikva, will go for its third consecutive win when it visits Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.

Hapoel Rishon Lezion, which still believes it can maintain its top-flight status despite being five points from safety, hosts Ashdod SC on Saturday in a match it simply must win.

Hapoel Haifa has claimed three straight victories, but Tal Banin’s side is just three points off the relegation zone and could find itself under intense pressure when it visits Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday should its rivals win on Saturday.

Despite suffering its first defeat since August last week, Kiryat Shmona remained well on course to claim an historic championship. The northerners still hold a 14-point gap over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv following the Reds’ 1-0 derby defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday.

Kiryat Shmona will be looking to prove that the defeat to Betar was no more than a hiccup when it hosts Hapoel Acre on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Bnei Sakhnin faces Hapoel Petah Tikva and Maccabi Netanya visits Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.

Hapoel Tel Aviv travels to Maccabi Haifa on Monday, but at the moment its complete focus is on Sunday’s date with the IFA court.

Police arrested 24 Hapoel fans following Monday’s derby, with one Maccabi supporter spending the night in hospital after being hit by a flare fired from outside the stadium.

The IFA charged Hapoel with unsporting conduct, unruly fan behavior and the entering of fans onto the field of play. The Reds are likely to be deducted points and to be punished to host several matches away from Bloomfield Stadium.

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