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(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
Betar Jerusalem's four game winning streak came to an end on Saturday night with a surprising 1-0 defeat to Hapoel Petah Tikva at Teddy Stadium in Premier League Matchday 10.
After all the fervor and media attention over the appointment of new general manager Luis Fernandez this week, expectations were high among the Betar fans.
But despite the home side having much of the possession, Petah Tikva was the better team in the first half, with some brilliant moves and impressive passing by playmaker Yossi Shivkhon. Omer Buksenbaum did a good job in marking Betar midfielder Jeff Tutuana.
The yellow-and-black showed more resolve in the second period with strong attacks led by midfielders Maor Melikson and Idan Malihi.
But striker Lior Asulin was consistently inaccurate and careless in front of goal, spawning a number of opportunities.
Just when a home goal was in the air, Petah Tikva struck in the 72nd minute.
Manor Hasan found Shivkhon 30 meters from goal, who passed the ball to substitute striker Elnatan Salami. Salami broke Betar's offside trap and fired a into the top corner leaving keeper Itzik Korenfein helpless.
After the goal, Petah Tikva goalkeeper Rafi Cohen was the busiest player on the field, producing some heroic saves, including a critical effort in injury time, when he palmed away an on-target Omri Afek piledriver.
After the game Betar head coach Tom Caanen said: "We started the game poorly, and we have no excuses. Too many of the players played at the level that they used to [before I came].
"God gave us the luck last week in the win against Ashdod and this week the luck wasn't with us.
"Hapoel was very lucky in the second half and we deserved at least a point from this game."
Fernandez, who watched the game from the VIP section, told Channel 1: "I was very impressed by the ambiance, it helps the team. Even if they lose, it is good for the future.
"Tonight my impression is that I saw a Betar team that tried to fight and made the best effort but they had very good opposition and that's football."
"I don't think my presence put pressure on the players. At the end of the day they had a good team in front of them. You have to accept a defeat like you take a victory."
Hapoel Tel Aviv 3, Ashdod SC 1
Dror Kashtan's side finally got back to its winning ways with an impressive comeback and a strong second half.
Ashdod was first to take the lead in the 26th minute when Yossi Ofir headed in from close range off a David Revivo corner.
Tel Aviv drew level two minutes before half time when Israeli international Walid Badier let fly from the edge of the box, leaving goalkeeper Sami Edgy no chance.
The second half was totally in the hosts' control, with Elyaniv Barda and John Pantsil leading the show. Their effort paid off in the 55th minute. Pantsil made a swift run on the right flank and hoisted a deft cross into the box. Omer Peretz positioned himself well and provided a clinical finish, giving the reds a 2-1 lead.
Shimon Gershon secured the victory and in the 87th minute with a perfectly struck spot kick after Badier was brought down in the box.
Bnei Sakhnin 2, Maccabi Netanya 2
Sakhnin got a boost as captain Abbas Suan passed a fitness test prior to the game and was cleared by the medical staff to return to the starting lineup.
The hosts started the game in an attacking formation and went ahead in the 13th minute. Yaniv Avargil skillful- ly skipped past two Netanya defenders and had just the goalkeeper to beat, but Avi Peretz got his fingers to Avargil's effort and diverted the ball only for Ahmed Kasum to swoop in and head in the opener from close range.
Netanya didn't give up and struck back in the 42nd minute. former Sakhnin player Alen Masudi set up forward Papi Kimoto in the box, who provided an elegant finish.
Kimoto was instrumental again in Netanya's second goal. The energetic striker stole the ball from Abed Rabakh and sent a cross towards Masudi, who struck the ball with fury, making it 2-1 in the 68th minute.
Suan scored the equalizer just four minutes later with a well-struck kick from 20 meters, giving Sakhnin a valuable point. Suan was clearly below par due to his nagging injury, and was substituted right after the goal.
In other games, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Bnei Yehuda parted in a scoreless draw, while Hapoel Upper Nazareth got the best of Hapoel Kfar Saba 2-1. The visitors prevailed thanks to goals by Shahar Siman-Tov (6) and Guillermo Israelevic (32).
Zoran Rayovic scored in the 76th minute for Kfar Saba.
Maccabi Tel Aviv takes on rival Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer on Sunday.
The yellow-and-blue will show up with a depleted squad. Several first-team players, including former Haifa stars Eyal Berkovic and Giovanni Rosso, are injured and doubtful for the game.
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