(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With one title already escaping its grasp earlier this week, Hapoel Beersheba aims to get its Premier League title defense back on track when it hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Turner Stadium on Saturday.
Kiryat Shmona ended Beersheba’s quest to claim a local treble when it registered a surprise 2-1 win at Turner in the State Cup round of 16 on Tuesday.
Beersheba was looking to join the Maccabi Tel Aviv side of 2014/15 as the only teams to claim the championship, State Cup and Toto Cup in a single season, with the reigning champion already securing the latter title earlier in the campaign.
A second straight championship seemed like a forgone conclusion when Beersheba held a 10-point gap at the top several weeks ago.
However, Maccabi closed within six points on Sunday to breathe new life into the title race, and Beersheba’s season took another turn for the worse after Kiryat Shmona’s Brazilian striker Mauricio (3, 71) netted a brace to render Maor Melikson’s (45) equalizer as meaningless.
Since going on a club record ninematch winning streak in the league, Beersheba has won just two of six games, conceding a 90th-minute equalizer to draw 1-1 with Maccabi Petah Tikva last Saturday.
An injury crisis will mean coach Barak Bachar will need to use a make-shift lineup on Saturday, with Brazilian defender William Soares to possibly start despite only joining the team in training for the first time on Thursday. Soares returned to the club after struggling to settle at Belgian side Standard Liege, which he joined from Beersheba just five months ago.
“We weren’t good enough to beat Kiryat Shmona in the cup and we will need to learn from that,” said Bachar.
Beersheba can move nine points clear of Maccabi for at least 48 hours with a win, with the yellow-and-blue not visiting Maccabi Haifa until Monday night.
Elsewhere Saturday, Beitar Jerusalem looks to make it four straight win over all competitions when it hosts Ashdod SC.
Beitar enters the encounter three days after beating Bnei Sakhnin 2-1 to reach the cup quarterfinals.
“Over the past month we have been more committed and that is why we are winning,” said Beitar captain Dan Einbinider.
“The signings of Hen Ezra and Israel Zaguri have given us a lot and from what I’m hearing the team is going to sign more players before the close of the transfer window.”
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Hapoel Kfar Saba.
On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv faces Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Ashkelon visits Sakhnin.