Kiryat Shmona running away from the pack

Surprising league-leaders earn 10th victory in last 11 matches; Greens outclassed by Hap PT.

Kiryat Shmona 311 (photo credit: (Asaf Kliger))
Kiryat Shmona 311
(photo credit: (Asaf Kliger))
Maccabi Haifa’s hopes of defending its Premier League title look to be as good as over after the Greens suffered their sixth defeat of the campaign on Saturday night, dropping 13 points behind Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which extended its winning streak to six games.
Haifa lost just three times all last season, but its humbling 3-1 defeat at Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday means it has already lost double that amount in just 17 matches this term and coach Elisha Levy admitted that winning a third championship in four years is now extremely unlikely.
“It is unrealistic for us to even talk about winning the championship,” Levy said. “You need to have a special talent to lose a match like we did tonight. They reached three chances and scored three goals. We created countless opportunities, but couldn’t convert them.”
Haifa dominated the possession from the start of the match at Petah Tikva’s new Moshava Stadium, but striker Wiyam Amasha was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal and Petah Tikva struck on the break.
Guy Tzarfati’s through ball in the 37th minute caught Haifa’s defense napping and Dominique Wassi coolly slotted in the opener.
Amasha twice came close to equalizing at the start of the second half, rounding goalkeeper Austin Ejide six minutes after the break only to have his shot cleared off the line by Fabian Stoller.
Six minutes later, Haifa paid the price for its carelessness, with Yaniv Luzon doubling Petah Tikva’s advantage with an excellent left-footed finish.
Alon Turgeman got a goal back for Haifa in the 63rd, but the Greens could not find an equalizer, with Wassi clinching the win with his second goal of the night in stoppage time.
Meanwhile, Kiryat Shmona increased its lead at the top of the table to seven points thanks to its 10th victory in 11 matches, winning 1-0 at Maccabi Netanya.
Leonard Krupnik’s own goal in the 51st minute decided the match, with Ran Ben-Shimon’s side winning by a 1-0 score line for the fifth time in six encounters.
“We showed a lot of commitment and discipline,” said Ben-Shimon, whose team has conceded just two goals in its past nine matches. “This is one of the toughest grounds to take points, but we did it and showed our character.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv climbed to second place in the standings on Saturday, but it now trails Kiryat Shmona by seven points after being held to a 1-1 draw by Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium.
Omer Damari put Hapoel in front in the second minute, but Kestutis Ivaskevicius’ bullet from 20 meters out 11 minutes from time gave Bnei Yehuda a deserved equalizer and handed Tel Aviv’s title hopes another blow.
“The score was fair and I have no complaints,” Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan said. “We haven’t won in the last three matches, but we must continue to work hard to get back on track.”
Ashdod SC can return to second place and close to within four points of Kiryat Shmona when it hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Also Sunday, Betar Jerusalem visits Hapoel Acre.
Bnei Sakhnin continued its impressive season and snapped Hapoel Beersheba’s three-match winning streak on Saturday, winning 2-0 at Vasermil Stadium courtesy of goals from Ahmed Kasoum (42) and Hamad Ganayem (90), with Sakhnin’s Maharan Radi being sent off in the 58th minute.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Ramat Hasharon drew 1-1, with Yossi Ofir (2) scoring for the visitors and Amiram Shkalim (57) netting for Rishon. Vladimir Gluscevic gave Hapoel Haifa a 42nd minute lead against Maccabi Petah Tikva, but Tal Ben-Haim ensured the match ended in a 1-1 draw with his penalty in the 58th minute.