Hapoel Beersheba striker Shlomi Arbeitman’s bicycle-kick goal against Hapoel Haifa was the only time his team managed to score in the past two matches, a barren spell it will be aiming to end against Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
After surging to the top of the Premier League standings with a five-match winning streak during which it scored 14 goals, Hapoel Beersheba has hit a bump in the road.
Beersheba enters Saturday’s encounter against Hapoel Kfar Saba at Turner Stadium hoping the bump doesn’t end up completely derailing its title challenge after a tight 1-0 win over Hapoel Haifa was followed by last week’s goalless deadlock against Bnei Yehuda.
The lethal three-thronged attack of Elyaniv Barda (six goals), Anthony Nwakaeme (four goals) and Maor Melikson (one goal, seven assists) tore apart opponents during the first four wins of the streak before Shlomi Arbeitman’s memorable bicycle-kick gave Beersheba all three points against Haifa.
However, last week’s failure to find the back of the net resulted in Beersheba dropping to second place in the standings, two points back of three-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv which registered its sixth win in seven matches with the 3-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa.
Beersheba can return to first place for at least 24 hours with a win over Kfar Saba, with Maccabi not hosting Bnei Yehuda in Netanya until Sunday night.
Despite the unexpected setback, Beersheba coach Barak Bachar has looked to take pressure off his players by insisting it is only natural that the team should experience an occasional lull in scoring, although coming up short at home against newly promoted Kfar Saba will certainly set the alarm bells ringing.
“We had a tough match against Bnei Yehuda which closed us down well and we should have known to make the most of the one or two chances we reached,” said Bachar. “We will not create many chances in every match. It was a disappointing game, but everything is fine.”
After its prolific start to the campaign, Bachar knows Beersheba’s opponents will largely look to adopt a defensive formation against his side.
“We need to find a solution for that,” he admitted. “Teams are ready for us and look to crowd us on defense. We need to be more composed with the final pass.
Every match is a challenge and we are ready for that. Usually we find solutions, but we couldn’t against Bnei Yehuda. We will learn from it to correct our mistakes.”
Bachar may need to manage without Melikson on Saturday, with the midfielder carrying a knee injury, while Ben Sahar and Maor Buzaglo remain sidelined.
“We are not preoccupied with first place,” said Melikson. “The league is long and there are still many more matches to play, including in the playoff. We knew the winning streak would end sometime.”
Beitar Jerusalem, meanwhile, will aim to remain hot on the heels of the top two when it visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
Despite a mediocre performance, Beitar made it six wins in seven matches with a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Acre on Sunday thanks to Elad Gabay’s stoppage-time winner.
“We are near to the top, but we need to play better if we want to remain there,” said Beitar coach Slobodan Drapic, whose team is just two points behind Beersheba.
Maccabi Haifa will look to register two straight wins for the first time this season when it hosts Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.
Haifa climbed out of the relegation zone after recording just its third victory of the campaign on Monday, beating Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0.
Netanya remained rock-bottom following a 3-1 loss to Hapoel Ra’anana in Reuven Atar’s first match at the helm.
Also Saturday, Ra’anana welcomes Hapoel Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona. Hapoel Acre faces Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday.