Kiryat Shmona returns to top of the table

Gritty 1-0 conquest of Hapoel Tel Aviv extends magical season for plucky club.

Ironi Kiryat Shoman coach Ran Ben Shimon_311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai )
Ironi Kiryat Shoman coach Ran Ben Shimon_311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai )
Ironi Kiryat Shmona proved its Premier League title challenge is for real on Monday night, defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 1-0 at home to leapfrog the Reds into first place in the standings.
Hapoel entered the match brimming with confidence after outplaying Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa in its last two league games to consolidate its place at the top of the table.
However, it was far from its best on Monday and Barak Badash’s 76th minute goal gave Kiryat Shmona its eighth win in nine matches, extending its unbeaten streak to 13 games.
“My players are achieving something amazing week-in week-out,” Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon said.
“We didn’t target the league title at the beginning of the season, but we have looked good from the start of the campaign. We will still need to add a couple of players if we are to go on and win the championship and we intend on doing that in January.
Everyone will enter the matches against us differently in the second round of games, so we should wait 10 more matches and see where we are. I believe we will be near the top until the end of the season.”
Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan, who was at the stadium despite his brother’s death on Sunday, was understandably disappointed.
“The level of the match wasn’t great,” Kashtan said. “Kiryat Shmona took advantage of its chance while we didn’t convert our three opportunities and that was the difference.”
Kiryat Shmona looked to dominate the possession from the start and Hapoel gladly conceded control.
Tel Aviv’s game plan was to try and hit the hosts on the break and as long as Kiryat Shmona failed to penetrate its defense Hapoel was happy.
Badash reached Kiryat Shmona’s first chance of the match in the seventh minute, but his shot was not good enough to threaten goalkeeper Apoula Edel.
Kiryat Shmona’s ‘keeper Danny Amos did well to deny Maharan Lala’s header six minutes later in what was the first of only two real scoring opportunities the visitors would reach in the first half.
However, Ben-Shimon’s team’s offensive play was largely sterile, with Shimon Abu-Hazeira’s powerful volley from 20 meters out in the 30th minute all the northerners could muster in the first 45 minutes.
Despite rarely venturing forward, Hapoel should have had the lead at the break.
An awful mistake by Salah Hasarma in first half stoppage time should have been punished by Lala, but despite having all the time in the world, the Hapoel striker sent his shot wide from five meters out.
The second half got off to a slow start and the match seemed to be heading to a goalless deadlock until it burst into life in the final 20 minutes.
William Njovu should have done better with his free shot from just inside the area in the 72nd minute and you would have expected the usually lethal Omer Damari to get the better of Amos and finish off his excellent surge forward a minute later.
Another minute passed and this time it was Hapoel’s ‘keeper Edel which was being kept busy, saving Abu Hazeira’s header.
However, there was nothing the Cameroonian stopper could do to deny Badash the winner in the 76th minute.
Ravid Gazal’s long ball caught the Tel Aviv defense napping and Elad Gabai’s cross from the right was perfectly timed for Badash to head in his sixth league goal of the season.
Kiryat Shmona had its chances to double the lead in the subsequent minutes, but it eventually needed a late save by Amos to secure all three points.
Elroei Cohen, who joined Hapoel from Kiryat Shmona, received the ball in a great position two minutes into injury time, but Amos spread himself superbly to save the shot and the hosts held on for a memorable win that takes them back into first place.