Beitar Jerusalem players celebrating a goal.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Premier League title hopes suffered another blow on Sunday night, following a 3-1 defeat to Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
Guy Levy got his tenure as Beitar coach off to a dream start thanks to two Shir Tzedek own-goals and Kiryat Shmona could find itself four points behind league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv, should the two-time defending champion beat Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby on Monday.
Kiryat Shmona midfielder Adrian Rochet (27) quickly canceled out Tzedek’s (23) first own-goal, but Tzedek found the back of his goalkeeper’s net yet again in the 76th minute and Ofir Kriaf clinched Beitar’s win in stoppage time.
Kiryat Shmona had spent more than three consecutive months in first place, but has picked up just four of a possible 12 points from its past four matches.
Beitar, which brought in Levy to replace Menahem Koretzki last week, claimed just its sixth win of the season to move up to fifth place.
Maccabi and Hapoel will be meeting on Monday for the first time since the derby debacle three months ago which had to be stopped in the first half after a Hapoel fan ran onto the pitch and assaulted Maccabi midfielder Eran Zahavi.
Dozens of policemen will be present inside Bloomfield Stadium on Monday and not just around its perimeter as is usually the case. Over 220 policemen and 400 stewards in all will be at Bloomfield in an effort to keep the peace.
Both clubs paid a hefty price for their fans’ unruliness in the previous derby, with neither team receiving any points from the canceled match, while also being deducted one point and having to host three home games away from Bloomfield.
Nevertheless, Maccabi quickly bounced back, winning nine of 12 matches since, going unbeaten in its past 10 games.
The yellow-and-blue has done so even though Zahavi hasn’t been at his best.
After 17 consecutive league matches, Zahavi’s remarkable scoring streak ended in a 2-0 win over Hapoel Ra’anana in December, and while he has scored twice in four matches since, both goals came from the penalty spot.
“This is not Eran Zahavi football club, this is Maccabi Tel Aviv football club,” said a relaxed Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran on Sunday.
“I am worried about the way the team plays, not just Zahavi.”
Hapoel won its two contests following the derby, but has since triumphed in just one of 10 matches, resulting in coach Asi Domb’s sacking last week and the appointment of Eli Cohen.
Cohen’s first match at the helm ended in defeat to Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League in the State Cup round of 16 last week.
“The most important factor is which team wants the win more,” said Cohen.
“Maccabi has a lot more talent, but anything can happen in a given match.”
Maccabi was drawn on Sunday to face Kiryat Shmona in the State Cup quarterfinals, which will consist of two legs this season. Kiryat Shmona will host the first leg on February 11, with the return leg to be played at Bloomfield three weeks later.
Elsewhere in the quarterfinals, Hapoel Beersheba plays Maccabi Yavne of the National League, Maccabi Petah Tikva faces Hapoel Afula (NL) and Kfar Saba comes up against Ahi Nazareth in an all-National League showdown.