Kiryat Shmona takes huge step toward title

1-0 defeat over Haifa gives northerners formidable 12-point lead in standings.

Ran Ben-Shimon 390 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ran Ben-Shimon 390
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
There may still be some 13 matches remaining until the end of the Premier League season, but it sure felt like a new champion was crowned on Sunday night at Kiryat Shmona.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona defeated reigning- champion Maccabi Haifa 1-0 thanks to Barak Badash’s 86th-minute goal, opening a massive 12-point gap over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The northerners have looked rock solid all season long and extended their unbeaten streak to 22 matches on Sunday, winning for the 11th time in their past 13 games, keeping their 16th clean sheet in 24 encounters this season.
Meanwhile, no other team has managed to mount a consistent title challenge, leaving Kiryat Shmona well in front of the rest of the league, with the northerners looking more and more like the champions elect with every passing game.
“This was a very significant step, but we mustn’t begin to celebrate until we have officially wrapped up the title,” said Kiryat Shmona’s ever-cautious coach Ran Ben-Shimon. “We have a wonderful team. We have been missing players through injury but no one has noticed.
“We will continue to be committed in every match because otherwise our level will drop. It isn’t easy to cope with success, but we are doing so every week.”
Haifa coach Elisha Levy effectively congratulated Ben-Shimon for winning the title.
“I can understand him being cautious, but Kiryat Shmona is having a great season and they are on their way to the championship,” he said. “The match could have gone either way, but they took advantage of their chances and deserve all the credit for that.”
Kiryat Shmona almost got the match off to a blinding start, coming centimeters away from taking the lead with the match less than a minute old.
Dusan Matovic’s pass found Adi Elisha in space, but the midfielder had his shot denied by the crossbar.
Despite its poor season, Haifa was playing for pride and its determination almost resulted in the opener in the 13th minute, with ‘keeper Danny Amos doing well to deny Gustavo Boccoli’s shot.
However, the hosts were the more dangerous team throughout the encounter and 10 minutes later the woodwork was once more the only thing standing between Kiryat Shmona and the opener, with Shimon Abu-Hazeira’s header coming off the post.
Ben-Shimon sent on Badash at the start of the second half and the striker, who missed over a month through injury, was clearly still shaking off the rust five minutes after the break when he squandered a golden opportunity with only goalkeeper Nir Davidovich to beat.
There was not much to write about in the subsequent half-an-hour, but Kiryat Shmona would throw caution to the wind in the final 10 minutes to claim a significant win.
Badash fired wide in the 82nd and shot straight at the ‘keeper three minutes later, but a clinical team move in the 86th minute ended with Ravid Gazal squaring the ball for Badash, who made no mistake in front of goal and slotted in a memorable winner.
“In the last month I watched the team from the stands and felt really bad I wasn’t part of its run,” Badash said. “I prayed that this moment would arrive and I thank god for this. We now have a really significant gap and I believe we will be fine.”