Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Ofir Kriaf celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal in last night’s 3-0 victory over Hapoel Acre at Teddy Stadium.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
It was far from pretty, but Hapoel Beersheba returned to the top of the Premier League standings with a 1-0 victory at Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday night, while Beitar Jerusalem remained one point off the summit following a 3-0 win over Hapoel Acre.
Despite entering the weekend trailing Maccabi Tel Aviv in first place only on goals scored, pressure at Beersheba was clearly building after the team was knocked out of the State Cup at Kiryat Shmona last Wednesday.
That capped a miserable February by Beersheba’s standards, with the two-time defending champion winning just two of six matches over all competitions, being sent packing from the cup and only picking up a single point from matches against title rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem. Beersheba was lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw against Beitar at Turner Stadium last Sunday, but got March off on the right foot and made the most of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s goalless deadlock at Ashdod SC on Saturday, with Tomas Pekhart netting the only goal of Sunday’s match in the 43rd minute.
John Ogu’s shot from outside the box took a fortuitous deflection off the Czech striker and left goalkeeper Mahdi Zoabi helpless.
Kiryat Shmona hit the crossbar twice and Beersheba required a superb save from ‘keeper Guy Haimov in stoppage time, but coach Barak Bachar was just happy his side held on for three important points.
“This was a tough and sweet victory,” said Bachar, who finally welcomed back to the lineup influential defender Miguel Vitor, who had previously only played in four league matches this season. “Right now we aren’t thinking about our form but are focusing on getting back to the basics and winning our matches. We were lucky at the end, but I did see plenty of positives and a big improvement from the cup match.”
Beersheba hosts Bnei Sakhnin in its final regular season match next weekend, with a win to ensure it enters the championship playoffs in first place and opens it with two home games, including against the team in second place.
“We have gone through a lot of shocks this season, but we want to make history by winning a third straight championship.
I believe this win will give us a real push going forward.”
Beitar Jerusalem took the lead at Teddy Stadium through an Erik Sabo penalty in the 14th minute, with Itay Shechter tricking the referee into awarding the hosts a spot kick. The goal took Beitar’s scoring streak to 31 consecutive league matches. Beersheba has the second longest active streak in the league at six games.
Jerusalem didn’t have much trouble securing the three points in the second half, with Shechter finding the back of the net in the 64th minute and Ofir Kriaf wrapping up the scoring six minutes from time.
“This was a really important win and we knew this wouldn’t be an easy match,” said Beitar coach Benny Ben-Zaken. “The players took the match seriously and once we scored the second goal we were able to enjoy ourselves. We are trying to focus on every match and not look too far ahead. Our next goal is the match against Hapoel Ra’anana and that is all we are thinking about.”