K8 squanders first chance to clinch title

Bnei Yehuda notches 1-0 conquest at league-leaders on rare off-night for Ben-Shimon’s boys.

SHIMON ABU HAZEIRA (above right, heading the ball) 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
SHIMON ABU HAZEIRA (above right, heading the ball) 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The T-shirts had been printed and the fireworks were all in place, but Ironi Kiryat Shmona will have to wait at least one more week to celebrate an historic Premier League championship after suffering a 1-0 home defeat to Bnei Yehuda on Monday night.
A victory would have seen Kiryat Shmona move 19 points clear of second- placed Hapoel Tel Aviv with just six matches remaining in the season.
However, the rampant league-leader completely froze on its big day, and Shalev Menashe’s 73rd-minute winner was no more than Bnei Yehuda deserved.
Despite the defeat, it only remains a matter of time until Kiryat Shmona clinches the league title and it will be hoping to already do so next week when it hosts its main title rival this season Hapoel Tel Aviv.
“This was the first time this season that we simply didn’t show up for a match,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon after seeing his team fall to its third defeat of the campaign.
“It’s not that we played poorly, but that we didn’t play at all. I felt like we were playing with weights on our legs and shoulders.”
Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abuksis admitted his squad played with a point to prove.
“It annoyed us that everyone just assumed we would lose tonight,” Abuksis said.
Nerves were clearly taking their toll on the hosts at the start of the match, with Kiryat Shmona struggling to string together a couple of passes, not to mention threaten Dele Aiyenugba’s goal.
Bnei Yehuda had no excuse for its anemic performance in the early stages, but it at least began to test ’keeper Danny Amos as the first half progressed, with Pedro Galvan registering the first shot on goal in the 16th minute.
Captain Adrian Rochet’s shot from 20 meters out in the 35th minute was as close as Kiryat Shmona came to netting the breakthrough in the first half and even that effort was at least a couple of meters off target.
Ben-Shimon sent on forward Shlomi Azulai in place of Ravid Gazal at halftime in the hope of injecting some life into his team’s attacking play.
The coach’s substitution looked like a stroke of genius in the 58th minute when Azulai squared the ball for Shimon Abu Hazeira to tuck into an empty net, but the goal was wrongly disallowed.
Inevitably, the referee’s assistant’s rash decision ended up costing Kiryat Shmona dearly, with Galvan squandering an excellent chance in the 71st minute before Menashe scored the winner two minutes later.
Menashe collected the ball 20 meters out from Kiryat Shmona’s goal and sent a splendid left-footed shot into the top left corner.
“We played terribly, maybe because we are a little new at these types of matches,” Rochet said. “Hopefully, we can get the job done next week.”