Kiryat Shmona’s Adrian Rochet.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
The Premier League’s top three maintained the status quo at the summit of the standings on Saturday night, with league-leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Hapoel Beersheba bouncing back from last week’s defeats, while Maccabi Tel Aviv extended its unbeaten streak to nine matches with a win over Hapoel Acre.
Kiryat Shmona saw its 16-match unbeaten run to start the season come to an end with a surprise 3-0 defeat at Maccabi Petah Tikva last Saturday and found itself a goal down to Hapoel Haifa at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
However, Maharan Lala’s 32nd-minute opener was canceled out by Adrian Rochet’s stunning strike from 20 meters out two minutes from the break and Rodgers Kola clinched the 2-1 win in the 54th minute.
“We registered a great win,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar, whose team holds a one-point lead over Maccabi Tel Aviv. “It isn’t easy to come from behind against an in-form team. We need to improve in the final third, but all in all I was happy with how we played and I believe we are entering a new period.”
Beersheba was in danger of losing touch with the top two after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Hapoel Ra’anana last week. However, it returned to winning ways on Saturday despite playing with 10 men for the entire second half.
John Ogu scored the only goal of the match in the 17th minute after superb buildup play by Elyaniv Barda, with Beersheba holding on for a 1-0 victory even though it lost William Suraez to a red card in the 45th minute. Petah Tikva also ended the match with 10 men following Hagay Goldenberg’s sending off in the 86th minute.
“We played without both our regular center backs and with 10 men for an entire half, but we stayed tough and got the win,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy, whose team remains six points behind Kiryat Shmona. “We registered an important win and we will improve our level of play later on.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv got off to a perfect start at Bloomfield Stadium, taking the lead in the second minute before cruising to a 3-0 victory over rock-bottom Hapoel Acre.
Branislav Jovanovic gifted Maccabi a penalty after just 35 seconds, bizarrely batting the ball away with his hand. Eran Zahavi stepped up to slot in his 17th goal of the season. Tal Ben-Haim doubled the advantage in the 25th minute after a characteristic break down the right flank before Eden Ben-Basat made it 3-0 from the penalty spot after a mere 35 minutes.
“It was an opportunity to show how we can play, but the players relaxed a bit and I think we shouldn’t allow ourselves to do this,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran.
“Everything is so tight at the top and we can’t make any mistake because they are not going to give us any advantage.”
Also Saturday, Michael Ohana’s goal in the first minute of stoppage time gave Ashdod SC a 2-1 win at Hapoel Petah Tikva. Paty Yeye (15) netted Ashdod’s opener, with Dor Hugi equalizing in the 70th minute.
On Sunday, Maccabi Haifa, which is closing on the signing of Eliran Atar from French club Reims, visits Hapoel Ra’anana.
On Monday, Bnei Sakhnin welcomes Maccabi Netanya while Beitar Jerusalem will aim to bounce back from its shock State Cup exit at the hands of third division Hapoel Ashkelon when it hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium.