Beitar Jerusalem defender Marchel Heister..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The last time Beitar Jerusalem opened a Premier League campaign with three straight victories it went on to win the championship. That was 10 years ago, and while it is far too early to predict the outcome of this season’s title race, Beitar showed on Monday that it at least deserves to be considered as a dark horse.
Jerusalem extended its perfect start to the season with a 2-1 victory at Maccabi Petah Tikva despite playing with 10 men from the 24th minute. Georginho had given the visitors the lead, only for Romario Pires to equalize from the spot eight minutes later, with Beitar also losing defender Mickey Siroshtein to a red card for fouling Yuval Avidor.
Beitar looked to be in trouble, but it closed down Petah Tikva and netted the winner in the 78th minute through German defender Marcel Heister.
“The players showed a lot of character,” said Beitar coach Gili Lavenda.
“We closed them down well and I’m happy that we managed to score that second goal at the end. We have gotten off to an excellent start, but we are only three weeks into the season. It is far too early to talk about winning the championship, but Beitar always aspires for the top.”
Beitar was playing for the first time since the hiring of Eli Cohen as a professional adviser. The veteran coach was brought in to work together with Lavenda, who initially replaced the sacked Sharon Mimer on an interim basis.
Mimer was fired four days before Beitar began its Premier League campaign after falling out with club owner Eli Tabib. Lavenda, who had been working as Mimer’s assistant, said he was happy with his cooperation with the 66-year-old Cohen, who returned to Beitar after three previous tenures as the club’s head coach.
“We have been working together all week and we also spoke at halftime,” said Lavenda.
Beitar got off to the better start and was rewarded in the 18th minute. Idan Vered’s perfectly weighted pass was met by Georginho’s head and the ball flew into the top right corner.
The match would turn on its head six minutes later though, with Beitar dropping to 10 men and Petah Tikva being awarded a penalty. Petah Tikva striker Avidor raced towards goal, but made sure to make just enough contact with Beitar’s Siroshtein before going down and leaving referee Alon Yeffet with a very difficult decision. Yeffet sent Siroshtein off for denying Avidor a clear attempt at goal and Petah Tikva’s Brazilian midfielder Pires smashed in the spot kick.
Despite playing with one man fewer, Beitar maintained plenty of possession and was at least, if not more, dangerous than the hosts.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium for both teams though, and a draw seemed likelier with every minute that passed. But Beitar needed just one clinical surge forward to take all three points. Substitute Paul Edgar threaded the ball through to Vered with his first touch of the ball and Vered found an incoming Heister, whose left-footed shot sailed under the body of Petah Tikva goalkeeper Tzahi Gigi.
Petah Tikva coach Kobi Refua sent on new Greek signing Sotiris Ninis and he came within centimeters of equalizing five minutes from time.
But his shot went out off the upright and Beitar held on for another impressive win.