(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After 518 minutes without a Premier League goal, the last opponent Betar
Jerusalem wants to be facing on Saturday is rampant leader Ironi Kiryat
Betar hasn’t found the back of the net since the 22nd minute of
its match against Ashdod SC on January 21 when Leonardo Passos Alves headed in
Jerusalem’s winner in a 1-0 victory.
Betar has since picked up just a
single point from five matches, replaced coach Yuval Naim with Eli Cohen and
dropped into the relegation zone, raising real concern among the club’s faithful
that the team could lose its top-flight status for the first time since
A nice easy win against an inferior opponent is what Betar
desperately needs at the moment, but instead it will be coming up against the
seemingly unstoppable Kiryat Shmona.
As well as being unbeaten in their
past 25 matches, winning 13 of their last 16, Ran Ben-Shimon’s men have also
conceded just 12 goals in 27 games this season, keeping their 18th clean sheet
of the campaign in last week’s 1-0 win over Bnei Yehuda to increase their gap at
the top of the standings to 14 points.
The northerners still remain wary
of uncorking the champagne bottles, but with 10 matches left in the season and a
maximum 30 points up for grabs, only a truly remarkable meltdown could deny
Kiryat Shmona an historic championship.
Matters are far less clear at the
bottom of the standings, with six teams fighting against relegation.
three points separate Betar in 14th place and Hapoel Haifa in 11th, with Maccabi
Petah Tikva tied on 28 points with Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba one place and one
point ahead of Jerusalem.
With the league to be split into two sections
after 30 matches, the bottom eight will all meet each other one more time before
the end of the season and will all be battling over the next three weeks for a
better starting position ahead of the final stretch to the
Considering its opponent at Teddy Stadium, anything Betar can
salvage from Saturday’s match will be a bonus, especially after the club was
handed another body blow by the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court
Jerusalem was sentenced to host three matches away from Teddy
Stadium following fan trouble in encounters against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi
Haifa, meaning it could play all three of its home games in the relegation
playoffs away from the capital.
Betar has filed an appeal against the
sentence, which also included a NIS 30,000 fine and the closer of the east stand
at Teddy for the match against Bnei Yehuda in two weeks time.
claimed in an official statement that the IFA courts are discriminating against
it, hinting that IFA chairman Avi Luzon has set out to relegate Betar due to the
struggles of Maccabi Petah Tikva, a club once run by Luzon and owned by his
Petah Tikva has found itself mixed up in the basement battles
after losing three straight matches and faces a tricky tie at Bnei Yehuda on
Rock-bottom Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts 15th-placed Hapoel Rishon
Lezion in what could prove to be a crucial turning point in both teams’ battle
Petah Tikva, which began the season with a nine-point
deduction, is unbeaten in its last four matches and can climb off the bottom of
the standings for the first time this season with a win on Saturday.
Saturday, Beersheba hosts Ashdod SC, Hapoel Haifa faces Hapoel Ramat Hasharon
and Bnei Sakhnin visits Maccabi Netanya.
Maccabi Haifa goes to Hapoel
Acre on Sunday, with Hapoel Tel Aviv to host Maccabi Tel Aviv in the
much-anticipated derby on Monday.