Ironi Kiryat Shmona looks to keep rolling vs Ashkelon
Last season’s National League champion is following a long-term plan which is bearing fruit sooner than many expected.
By ALLON SINAI
Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s sensational start to the season may be surprising, but it is anything but coincidental.Last season’s National League champion is following a long-term plan which is bearing fruit sooner than many expected.RELATED:Hap TA now a perfect 3-for-3 in futilityIsrael falls 20 spots in FIFA rankingsUnder the guidance of Ran Ben-Shimon, Kiryat Shmona finished its first-ever season in the top flight in 2007/08 in third position, qualifying for the UEFA Cup.Ben-Shimon left Kiryat Shmona for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2008, but returned later in the 2008/09 season after getting sacked by Maccabi following only eight league matches. He couldn’t save Kiryat Shmona from relegation, but remained up north and guided the club back to the Premier League after a single campaign.Earlier this week, Ben-Shimon signed a contract extension through the 2011/12 season, and if his team’s first six matches are anything to go by, there is still plenty to come from Kiryat Shmona’s youngsters.Ben-Shimon has built his team around a group of largely unknown and unproven players, and they have not disappointed.The performances of 21-year-old Elroei Cohen have already resulted in a call-up to the Israel national team, while striker Wiyam Amashe has set the league on fire thus far, scoring seven goals in six matches.Kiryat Shmona not only leads the league with 16 points out of a possible 18, but also tops all teams with 16 goals while conceding the second lowest total (six, compared to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s four).“Things have gone well for us so far. We are playing with passion and I love that,” Ben-Shimon said. “We need to continue to play well because there is still a long way to go.”Kiryat Shmona hosts fellow newly promoted side, Hapoel Ashkelon, on Saturday, looking for a fifth straight win which will ensure it at least one more week at the top of the standings.Ashkelon has also exceeded expectations to this point, losing just one of its six matches.Meanwhile, second-placed Maccabi Haifa will be looking for an improvement in form when it hosts Ashdod SC.Besides Kiryat Shmona, Haifa is the only other unbeaten team in the league, but its victories have been far from impressive.Ashdod will be hoping to rebound from Thursday’s ruling by the Israel Football Association disciplinary court after being handed a 3-0 technical loss in its match against Hapoel Beersheba.With the score tied at 3-3 deep into stoppage time at Ashdod’s Yud-Alef Stadium on Sunday, referee’s assistant Oren Bornstein was struck by an object thrown by the Ashdod fans and referee Ziv Adler called off the match.Ashdod was also punished to play one match in front of empty stands and pay a NIS 10,000 fine.Also Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be aiming to recover from last week’s loss in the derby in its home match against Hapoel Ramat Gan, while Bnei Yehuda visits Hapoel Acre, Maccabi Netanya hosts Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba welcomes Hapoel Petah Tikva.Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Maccabi Petah Tikva on Sunday, with Betar Jerusalem to host Bnei Sakhnin on Monday.
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