Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda.
(photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)
The remarkable win over reigning champion Maccabi Tel Aviv may already seem like a distant memory, but Hapoel Beersheba is hoping to build on the momentum of that 3-2 victory when it visits Hapoel Ra’anana on Saturday.
It has been almost three weeks since Elyaniv Barda’s hat-trick sent Maccabi to its first defeat of the season, with Yom Kippur and international action forcing a longer than usual break to local league play.
Beersheba’s Barda and Maor Buzaglo were both part of the Israel squad for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Cyprus and Andorra, but didn’t play in the blue-and-white’s victories.
That will at least mean they will be well rested for the match against Ra’anana, which was the only team Beersheba failed to beat last season.
However, after opening the season with a 4-0 win over Hapoel Petah Tikva, Ra’anana has suffered two consecutive defeats to Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Petah Tikva, while Beersheba moved tied on seven points with first-place Ironi Kiryat Shmona following its triumph over the yellow-and-blue.
Beersheba got off to a perfect start thanks to Barda’s third-minute strike, with Maccabi equalizing in the 56th minute through Eran Zahavi’s penalty.
The match seemed to be heading to a draw entering the final 10 minutes, but a crazy four-minute stretch which included three goals would see the hosts claim the victory.
First Barda reestablished Beersheba’s lead in the 85th minute, only for Tal Ben-Haim to level the score less than two minutes later.
However, Barda wasn’t done and he headed in the winner almost immediately to give last season’s runner-up three precious points, and even more importantly, a real belief that the team can battle Maccabi for the championship this season.
Beersheba has also yet to benefit from the services of its biggest off-season signing, with midfielder Maor Melikson, who returned to the club after three years in Poland and France, set to finally make his debut on Saturday after recovering from a thigh injury.
As is often the case, Kiryat Shmona continues to fly under the radar, even though it is leading the standings. The northerners will be confident of making it three wins in a row when they host Maccabi Petah Tikva on Saturday.
“In the past four seasons we got the campaign off to a mediocre start, but we have changed that this season,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. “I don’t think the long break will stop us because we will have Vova Brown and Ahmed Abed back from injury.”
Also Saturday, Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Bnei Sakhnin, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Acre goes to Hapoel Petah Tikva, which is the only team yet to pick up a point this season.
On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem hosts Ashdod SC, while Maccabi Tel Aviv will welcome Maccabi Haifa in a mouthwatering showdown at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.