Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda defended by Ironi Kiryat Shmona defender Touvarno Pinas.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona extended its unbeaten start to the season and remained three points clear at the top of the Premier League standings on Tuesday night, drawing 1-1 with second- place Hapoel Beersheba.
The top two showed why they are two-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv’s main rivals for the title in a tight affair in Kiryat Shmona. The visitors took the lead through Ben Biton in the 22nd minute, but Rodgers Kola ensured both teams ended the night with the point they deserved with his penalty in the 55th minute.
“Considering the first half, a draw is a fair result,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. “We dominated the second half and I’m really pleased with the way we played.”
Beersheba coach Elisha Levy also had no complaints.
“We were excellent in the first half, but couldn’t score more than one goal,” he explained. “They pressured us in the second half and I think a draw is fair as both teams played well.
“The title race is very tight this season and there’s no reason why we can’t challenge until the very end,” he added. “This was a good result and we need to build on it.”
Beersheba got off to a bright start, with Elyaniv Barda being denied by alert ‘keeper Guy Haimov after less than four minutes. The visitors slowly but surely began to dominate the possession and moved in front in the 22nd minute, although they only did so after a stroke of good fortune. Biton’s shot from 30 meters out took a wicked deflection off the head of Kiryat Shmona’s Vova Brown and left Haimov with no chance.
Bachar realized he had to make a change as soon as possible and he brought on Ofir Mizrahi in place of Mindaugas Panka after just 36 minutes.
The hosts seized control of proceedings after that and would have the upper hand in the second half.
Referee Liran Liani spotted Tomislav Pajovic handling the ball in the box and Rodgers Kola converted the spot kick in the 55th minute.
Kiryat Shmona should have received another penalty just a minute later, but Liani wrongly chose to ignore Biton’s handball to Beersheba’s relief.
Both sides had chances to decide the encounter in the remainder of the match, but were ultimately forced to settle for a draw which mainly serves Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Maccabi can move up to second place and close to within two points of the summit with a win over Bnei Sakhnin in Acre on Wednesday.
Also Tuesday, Hisham Kiwan’s free kick from 20 meters out in the third minute of stoppage time gave Hapoel Haifa a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Ra’anana. Haifa climbed off the bottom of the standings with its third victory of the season, with Reuven Atar’s team securing all three of its wins to date in stoppage time.
Maccabi Haifa will hope to record two consecutive wins for the first time this season when it visits Maccabi Netanya on Wednesday. Haifa was far from impressive against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday, but coach Aleksandar Stanojevic breathed a huge sigh of relief following a 3-1 victory. Haifa is still searching for its first point on the road this season, losing all five of its matches away from Sammy Ofer Stadium by a combined goal difference of 1-8.
Also Wednesday, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Acre in Petah Tikva. On Thursday, Ashdod SC visits Maccabi Petah Tikva while Beitar Jerusalem will look to snap a three-match losing streak when it welcomes Hapoel Petah Tikva.