Kiryat Shmona takes big step towards title

Ben-Shimon’s men’s victory extends unbeaten streak to 19, increases gap to eight points in standings.

Ironi Kiryat Shmona soccer team 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona soccer team 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s charge for the Premier League championship overcame another hurdle on Saturday when the northerners beat Bnei Sakhnin 3-2 on the road to increase their lead at the top of the standings to eight points.
After 642 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal, Eric Gawu breached Kiryat Shmona’s defense to give Sakhnin a 20th-minute lead at the cold and swampy Doha Stadium.
However, Kiryat Shmona wouldn’t be rattled by falling into an early deficit and losing influential midfielder Ravid Gazal to injury in the 14th minute, scoring three times by the halftime whistle to all but clinch a ninth win in 10 matches.
Shimon Abu-Hazeira equalized five minutes after Gawu’s opener and a powerful header by new signing David Solari in the 43rd followed by a bullet from the edge of the area by Adi Elisha less than two minutes later gave Ran Ben-Shimon’s men a cushion they were never going to squander.
Kostadin Hazurov’s goal six minutes from time ensured there would be an exciting finish, but Kiryat Shmona held on for the win to take its unbeaten run to 19 matches and increase its gap to eight points following second-placed Ashdod’s dreary 0-0 home draw against Bnei Yehuda.
“This was more than just another win. I’m very proud of my players,” Ben-Shimon said. “It is not easy to come back from a goal down against Sakhnin, but we showed a lot of heart, character and brains. We have a committed team and we overcame difficult conditions tonight. We are one of the candidates to win the league, but there is still a long road ahead with many bumps to overcome.”
With Ashdod seemingly falling by the wayside after failing to win for the third time in four matches on Saturday, Kiryat Shmona’s only real challenger for a historic championship looks to be Hapoel Tel Aviv.
However, the Reds are in complete disarray following the shocking sacking of Dror Kashtan last week, and with a 12-point deficit from Kiryat Shmona, they can kiss their title hopes goodbye should they fail to beat Hapoel Haifa on the road in new coach Nitzan Shirazi’s first match at the helm on Monday night.
Maccabi Tel Aviv moved up to fourth in the table on Saturday with a thumping 4-0 victory over Hapoel Beersheba at Bloomfield Stadium.
Munas Dabbur netted his third and fourth goals (18, 62) in Maccabi’s last four league games, sandwiching strikes from Roberto Colautti (23) and Eliran Atar (55).
“I think this was our best game of the season,” said coach Nir Levine, who after replacing Moti Ivanir on an interim basis last month was told last week that he will continue until the end of the season. “We could have scored more than four goals, but when you win 4-0 you are happy.”
While the yellow-and-blue is slowly getting back on track, there seems to be no end in sight to the crisis at Maccabi Haifa, with the reigning champion failing to win for a fifth consecutive match on Saturday, drawing 0-0 at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
After two straight goalless deadlocks, Haifa hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium next week.
“Clearly this isn’t what we would like to see from the team,” said Haifa coach Elisha Levy, who once more had to endure calls for his resignation from the stands.
Lior Bartekovski’s 84th-minute equalizer gave Hapoel Rishon Lezion a 2-2 draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva and an important point in the battle against relegation.
Tal Ben-Haim (10) and Danny Preda (48) twice gave Petah Tikva the lead, but Asi Baldut (45) and Bartekovski ensured the points would be shard.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Acre drew 1-1, with Hen Ezra (20) netting for the hosts and Guy Dayan tying the score for Acre in the 64th minute.
Betar Jerusalem visits Hapoel Petah Tikva at the Moshava Stadium on Sunday in a crucial showdown in the fight against relegation.