Kiryat Shmona looks to pad first-place lead

Hapoel Tel Aviv ends Europa campaign with a win.

Mac TA interim coach Nir Levine_311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Mac TA interim coach Nir Levine_311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona will be looking to build on the momentum of its victory against Hapoel Tel Aviv and strengthen its position atop of the Premier League standings when it hosts Hapoel Haifa on Saturday evening.
Kiryat Shmona’s 1-0 victory over Tel Aviv, which took it above the Reds into first place, was the team’s eighth in the past nine matches, extending its unbeaten streak to 13 games.
What has been especially impressive about Kiryat Shmona’s recent run is that it has managed to pick up all three points even in matches in which it has played far from its best, something any team aspiring to win the championship must master.
Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon has been careful not to talk up his team’s hopes of winning an historic title, but with every week that passes and with every win his side claims, the mastermind behind the surprising success is finding it more and more difficult to discard his team’s chances.
Hapoel Haifa will also be entering Saturday’s match on a high, winning two games on the trot since Tal Banin replaced Nitzan Shirazi as coach.
After beating the hapless Maccabi Tel Aviv in Banin’s first match at the helm, the new coach guided his team to a stunning 3- 1 victory over Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel’s first win in the derby in over 10 years.
However, considering Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa’s recent struggles, Kiryat Shmona on the road currently presents the steepest challenge possible in the league, something Banin will be well aware of.
Maccabi Tel Aviv can hardly remember when it last won a league match, entering Saturday’s encounter against Hapoel Petah Tikva at Bloomfield Stadium winless in its past six games.
Maccabi came tantalizingly close to picking up all three points last week, conceding a stoppage time penalty in a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Netanya.
Nevertheless, interim coach Nir Levine will surely be confident the yellow-and-blue will finally triumph against rock-bottom Petah Tikva, which has scored one goal in its last four matches.
Betar Jerusalem will be desperate to stop its freefall when it hosts fellow-struggler Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday.
However, while Jerusalem has won just once in its past 11 matches, Beersheba has claimed two straight victories.
Also Saturday, Ashdod SC, which is just two points off the top of the standings, goes for its sixth consecutive win at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, Bnei Yehuda hosts Hapoel Acre and Hapoel Rishon Lezion visits Bnei Sakhnin.
On Sunday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv, which ended its Europa League campaign with a 2-0 home victory over Legia Warsaw on Thursday night.
Hapoel lost any hope of advancing from Group C after picking up just one point from its first four matches, but it at least saved some pride by winning its last two games, with Salim Toama (34) and Avihai Yadin (76) scoring on Thursday.
On Monday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Netanya.