Ran Ben-Shimon 390.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
There may still be some 13 matches remaining until the end of the Premier League
season, but it sure felt like a new champion was crowned on Sunday night at
Ironi Kiryat Shmona defeated reigning- champion Maccabi
Haifa 1-0 thanks to Barak Badash’s 86th-minute goal, opening a massive 12-point
gap over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The northerners have looked rock
solid all season long and extended their unbeaten streak to 22 matches on
Sunday, winning for the 11th time in their past 13 games, keeping their 16th
clean sheet in 24 encounters this season.
Meanwhile, no other team has
managed to mount a consistent title challenge, leaving Kiryat Shmona well in
front of the rest of the league, with the northerners looking more and more like
the champions elect with every passing game.
“This was a very significant
step, but we mustn’t begin to celebrate until we have officially wrapped up the
title,” said Kiryat Shmona’s ever-cautious coach Ran Ben-Shimon. “We have a
wonderful team. We have been missing players through injury but no one has
“We will continue to be committed in every match because
otherwise our level will drop. It isn’t easy to cope with success, but we are
doing so every week.”
Haifa coach Elisha Levy effectively congratulated
Ben-Shimon for winning the title.
“I can understand him being cautious,
but Kiryat Shmona is having a great season and they are on their way to the
championship,” he said. “The match could have gone either way, but they took
advantage of their chances and deserve all the credit for that.”
Shmona almost got the match off to a blinding start, coming centimeters away
from taking the lead with the match less than a minute old.
Matovic’s pass found Adi Elisha in space, but the midfielder had his shot denied
by the crossbar.
Despite its poor season, Haifa was playing for pride and
its determination almost resulted in the opener in the 13th minute, with ‘keeper
Danny Amos doing well to deny Gustavo Boccoli’s shot.
However, the hosts
were the more dangerous team throughout the encounter and 10 minutes later the
woodwork was once more the only thing standing between Kiryat Shmona and the
opener, with Shimon Abu-Hazeira’s header coming off the post.
sent on Badash at the start of the second half and the striker, who missed over
a month through injury, was clearly still shaking off the rust five minutes
after the break when he squandered a golden opportunity with only goalkeeper Nir
Davidovich to beat.
There was not much to write about in the subsequent
half-an-hour, but Kiryat Shmona would throw caution to the wind in the final 10
minutes to claim a significant win.
Badash fired wide in the 82nd and
shot straight at the ‘keeper three minutes later, but a clinical team move in
the 86th minute ended with Ravid Gazal squaring the ball for Badash, who made no
mistake in front of goal and slotted in a memorable winner.
“In the last
month I watched the team from the stands and felt really bad I wasn’t part of
its run,” Badash said. “I prayed that this moment would arrive and I thank god
for this. We now have a really significant gap and I believe we will be
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