Beitar moves into 1st-place tie with triumph

Cellar-dweller Acre no match for Jerusalem • Maccabi Tel Aviv held to 1-1 draw by Ashdod

Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben-Haim (right) looks on disappointed as Ashdod SC players celebrate the opener in yesterday’s 1-1 draw in Netanya. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben-Haim (right) looks on disappointed as Ashdod SC players celebrate the opener in yesterday’s 1-1 draw in Netanya.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem climbed up to first place in the Premier League standings for at least 24 hours on Saturday, while pressure on Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Jordi Cruyff continued to grow following another disappointing draw, this time a 1-1 result with Ashdod SC.
Beitar defeated Hapoel Acre 3-1 on the road to move ahead of Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba on goal difference.
Beersheba hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Sunday, with Hapoel Haifa welcoming Maccabi Haifa in the derby on Monday.
Itay Shechter’s 10th-minute opener for Beitar in Acre was canceled out after four minutes by Lotem Zino. But Jerusalem still had the lead at the break following Tal Kahila’s spectacular volley from 20 meters out in the 37th minute.
Beitar was content with defending in the second half, only clinching the three points in stoppage time through Gaetan Varenne’s strike after Acre had lost Abdi Farhat to a red card in the 84th minute.
Despite the win and the fact the team is in first place, coach Benny Ben-Zaken was booed by many of the Beitar fans at the final whistle.
The side’s far from impressive play, combined with the limited role fan-favorite Yossi Benayoun has received, have made Ben-Zaken an unpopular figure.
“I’m satisfied with this win,” said Ben-Zaken. “It isn’t easy to cope with the booing, but the team is in first place and at the end of the day that is what is important to the fans as well.”
Benayoun, who came on as a substitute in the 78th minute, tried to remain diplomatic, but didn’t hide his displeasure from his current situation.
“This isn’t what I expected, but this isn’t the time for me to make any decisions,” said Benayoun, before hinting that he isn’t ruling out a departure in January.
“Right now I’m here and I’m trying to do my best for the team.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv could find itself five points behind first place on Sunday should Hapoel Beersheba defeat Ironi Kiryat Shmona at Turner Stadium. Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff heard calls for his head at the final whistle in Netanya after another dejecting showing by his team.
A mistake by defender Jean-Sylvain Babin gifted Ashdod’s Mauricio Cordeiro the opener in the 30th minute and Maccabi could do no more than level the score through Nick Blackman’s tally in the 45th minute.
“Very, very disappointing performance. Very, very disappointing result,” said Cruyff. “If you want to win you have to start aggressive from the first minute. We lost a lot of simple balls in the midfield and in transition so this is very disappointing. If we want to do something we have to start showing a lot more fighting and a winning mentality.”
Cruyff admitted the supporters had every right to be unhappy.
“The fans have all the reasons to complain. And us the staff and the players have to accept that,” he explained.
Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda registered its third win in four matches, beating Bnei Sakhnin 3-0. Yonatan Cohen (34), Nerijus Valskis (55) and Eliel Peretz (90) scored for Bnei Yehuda, which moved up to sixth place.
Elsewhere, Diya Saba took his league-leading tally to 11 goals on Saturday, but Maccabi Netanya could only manage a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Ashkelon.
Saba gave Netanya the lead in the fifth minute, but squandered a golden opportunity to double the advantage and Ashkelon equalized through Moshiko Lugasi in the 72nd minute.