Sakhnin edges Beitar in subdued showdown

Hyped Doha match ends peacefully despite fear of violence between fans of bitter rivals.

Bnei Sakhnin players celebrate 1-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Bnei Sakhnin players celebrate 1-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Bnei Sakhnin claimed a sweet 1-0 win over Beitar Jerusalem at Doha Stadium on Sunday night following a tense affair held under heightened security.
Ismaeel Ryan scored the only goal of the match in the 39th minute to give Sakhnin all three points and hand Beitar its second straight defeat.
Seven hundred cops and Border Police officers and 200 ushers kept the peace, and the precautions taken by the security forces ensured the match went off without a hitch.
Both sets of supporters taunted each other as they always do when the teams meet, but despite the current volatile atmosphere there were no irregular incidents as feared.
However, the heated rivalry was not lost on both squads, with referee Alon Yefet having to hand out 10 yellow cards during the match, which came close to being marred by an on-field brawl on a couple of occasions.
Sakhnin’s second victory of the season took it out of the relegation zone and moved it up four spots to ninth place.
“We managed to disconnect ourselves from everything that was going on around the match,” said Sakhnin coach Guy Levy.
“This is a very important win for the club and the fans. Beitar is a superb team and gave us a real tough time.”
Firas Mugrabi squandered the first real scoring opportunity of the match, firing his volley wide in the 31st minute after Ryan did all the hard work and left him with only ’keeper Boris Klayman to beat.
However, Mugrabi’s miss was quickly forgotten, with Ryan finding the back of the net eight minutes later.
The hosts should have really doubled their advantage in the first minute of the second half, but Mohammad Ghadir somehow failed to place his header on target from two meters out.
Beitar created very few chances throughout the contest, but it had a golden opportunity to equalize 10 minutes from time. Omer Atzili had time and space in the center of the box, but he sent his header wide and Sakhnin held on for three important points.
On Monday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s title credentials will face a stern examination when the league-leader hosts second-place Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Kiryat Shmona is the only unbeaten team in the league and can move five points clear of the two-time defending champion with a win on Monday. The Northerners have won six of their past seven league games and have conceded a league-low four goals to date.
Maccabi has won six of seven matches this season, with its lone defeat coming at Hapoel Beersheba.
The yellow-and-blue will find out on Tuesday if they will be deducted points and whether the Tel Aviv derby against Hapoel will be replayed following its abandonment earlier this season.
Any point deduction could end up proving crucial in the title race, but Maccabi is focused on Monday’s showdown and the opportunity to leapfrog into first place.
“Normally when you go to play on the leader’s field they are the ones who have to win the game,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayesteran. “Kiryat Shmona is the best team this season and maybe the best in Israel over the past five years. We are playing a strong team and a strong club.”