Local Soccer: Bnei Yehuda rising

Team aims to pull off 'Great Escape' against Ashdod in relegation fight.

bnei yehuda 88 (photo credit:)
bnei yehuda 88
(photo credit: )
Four weeks ago it seemed to be all over for Bnei Yehuda. The club from southern Tel Aviv had just lost 3-2 to fellow struggler Hapoel Tel Aviv, its 15th defeat in its last 19 league matches, rooting the team to the bottom of the standings. Even home-grown striker Asi Baldut all but conceded that his team was on its way to the second division, saying: "It seems as though we're destined to be relegated. If we didn't win this match when will we ever win?" However, everything has changed in recent weeks, with Bnei Yehuda winning three straight matches, renewing the belief that the team is capable of completing the great escape. The side is still rock bottom of the Premier League standings, but is now only six points adrift of safety. Bnei Yehuda's victories over Bnei Sakhnin (3-1), Maccabi Herzliya (2-0) and Maccabi Haifa (1-0) in the last three weeks doubled its win tally for the season and all the wins came after the club replaced Eli Cohen with Ya'akov Asayag and Hezi Shirazi. On Saturday, Bnei Yehuda can take another significant step towards another season of Premier League soccer when it hosts Ashdod SC. Ashdod, which is also in the relegation zone and four points ahead of Bnei Yehuda, had won three of four matches before last week's disappointing 2-0 defeat to Maccabi Herzliya. Maccabi Tel Aviv is in sixth position, but is only four points clear of the relegation zone and can't afford to leave Kiryat Shmona empty handed on Saturday. Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon has agreed terms to take over at Maccabi next season and as a result faces a conflict of interests on Saturday. On the one hand Kiryat Shmona is tied on points with Maccabi Netanya and Bnei Sakhnin in second position and is well placed to clinch an historic UEFA Cup berth. On the other hand, however, Ben-Shimon will not want to coach the yellow-and-blue in the second division next season and will know that a win for his current team on Saturday will hurt his future side's chances of survival. Maccabi Petah Tikva, with new coach Nitzan Shirazi and his assistant Tal Banin, visit Haifa on Saturday looking to score its first goal in eight matches and win for the first time in more than two months. Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Kfar Saba visits Bnei Sakhnin. On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem can clinch a second straight championship with a win against Herzliya at Teddy Stadium, should Netanya, Kiryat Shomona and Sakhnin all fail to win on Saturday.