Flailing Betar runs into league-leading K8

Yellow-and-black faces Kiryat Shmona team that is unbeaten in its last 25.

Eli Cohen_390 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Eli Cohen_390
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After 518 minutes without a Premier League goal, the last opponent Betar Jerusalem wants to be facing on Saturday is rampant leader Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Betar hasn’t found the back of the net since the 22nd minute of its match against Ashdod SC on January 21 when Leonardo Passos Alves headed in Jerusalem’s winner in a 1-0 victory.
Betar has since picked up just a single point from five matches, replaced coach Yuval Naim with Eli Cohen and dropped into the relegation zone, raising real concern among the club’s faithful that the team could lose its top-flight status for the first time since 1992.
A nice easy win against an inferior opponent is what Betar desperately needs at the moment, but instead it will be coming up against the seemingly unstoppable Kiryat Shmona.
As well as being unbeaten in their past 25 matches, winning 13 of their last 16, Ran Ben-Shimon’s men have also conceded just 12 goals in 27 games this season, keeping their 18th clean sheet of the campaign in last week’s 1-0 win over Bnei Yehuda to increase their gap at the top of the standings to 14 points.
The northerners still remain wary of uncorking the champagne bottles, but with 10 matches left in the season and a maximum 30 points up for grabs, only a truly remarkable meltdown could deny Kiryat Shmona an historic championship.
Matters are far less clear at the bottom of the standings, with six teams fighting against relegation.
Just three points separate Betar in 14th place and Hapoel Haifa in 11th, with Maccabi Petah Tikva tied on 28 points with Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba one place and one point ahead of Jerusalem.
With the league to be split into two sections after 30 matches, the bottom eight will all meet each other one more time before the end of the season and will all be battling over the next three weeks for a better starting position ahead of the final stretch to the campaign.
Considering its opponent at Teddy Stadium, anything Betar can salvage from Saturday’s match will be a bonus, especially after the club was handed another body blow by the Israel Football Association’s disciplinary court on Tuesday.
Jerusalem was sentenced to host three matches away from Teddy Stadium following fan trouble in encounters against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, meaning it could play all three of its home games in the relegation playoffs away from the capital.
Betar has filed an appeal against the sentence, which also included a NIS 30,000 fine and the closer of the east stand at Teddy for the match against Bnei Yehuda in two weeks time.
Jerusalem claimed in an official statement that the IFA courts are discriminating against it, hinting that IFA chairman Avi Luzon has set out to relegate Betar due to the struggles of Maccabi Petah Tikva, a club once run by Luzon and owned by his brother.
Petah Tikva has found itself mixed up in the basement battles after losing three straight matches and faces a tricky tie at Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Rock-bottom Hapoel Petah Tikva hosts 15th-placed Hapoel Rishon Lezion in what could prove to be a crucial turning point in both teams’ battle for survival.
Petah Tikva, which began the season with a nine-point deduction, is unbeaten in its last four matches and can climb off the bottom of the standings for the first time this season with a win on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Beersheba hosts Ashdod SC, Hapoel Haifa faces Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and Bnei Sakhnin visits Maccabi Netanya.
Maccabi Haifa goes to Hapoel Acre on Sunday, with Hapoel Tel Aviv to host Maccabi Tel Aviv in the much-anticipated derby on Monday.