Hapoel Beersheba celebrates a win.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Beersheba kick-started its Premier League title challenge on Sunday night, with a stunning Elyaniv Barda winner securing a 2-1 victory over second-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Vasermil Stadium.
Captain Barda hadn’t found the back of the net since the end of September, but he netted twice (15, 41) on Sunday to bring his team back within six points of league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Kiryat Shmona initially leveled the score after just two minutes through Roei Kehat (17), but it had no answer for Barda’s second sensational strike and dropped to its third defeat of the season, remaining four points behind Maccabi.
Both teams knew that a draw would mainly benefit Maccabi and they came out looking for goals.
They would arrive before too long, with Barda providing the breakthrough after 15 minutes. The veteran ended his long barren spell by firing in from the edge of the box after Maor Buzaglo’s surge.
However, Beersheba’s lead lasted just two minutes. Mindaugas Panka’s cross from the right was turned in by Kehat, silencing the local supporters who were still celebrating the opener.
The up-tempo first half deserved another goal and it arrived four minutes from the break. Buzaglo laid the ball off and Barda smashed in the winner into the top right corner from 20 meters out.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Maccabi Netanya in what looks to be their last chance to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the championship playoffs.
Only the top six will advance to the championship playoffs in two weeks time, with Netanya currently in seventh place, five points behind Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Ra’anana, and Haifa a further point back.
Haifa has won just two of its past 10 matches and has an extremely difficult visit to Kiryat Shmona coming up next week followed by a derby against Hapoel Haifa to end the regular season.
Haifa striker Itay Shechter is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the 2-2 draw with Hapoel Tel Aviv due to illness and coach Marco Balbul remains optimistic despite guiding the Greens to just two wins in eight league matches since taking charge at the end of December.
“We have improved recently,” said Balbul. “I’m pleased with the squad we built, but we still have several things to improve on.”
Netanya has been in impressive form since Roni Levy took charge of the side, losing just one of six matches and claiming a resounding 4-2 win over Beersheba last week.
The cash-stricken club finally transferred the players their salaries for the month of December last week and is especially desperate to sneak into the top six as it would result in five more home matches against the league’s biggest teams and significant paydays for Netanya.