Local Soccer: Betar faces soaring Kiryat Shmona

Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Betar Jerusalem in the Premier League on Saturday in the biggest match in the northern club's history.

Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Betar Jerusalem in the Premier League on Saturday in the biggest match in the northern club's history. Kiryat Shmona, which was promoted to Israel's top division for the first time ever last season, has been the surprise package in the Premier League so far, losing just two of its first 19 matches of the season. The team, which sold-out its stadium for Saturday's match at the start of the week, is currently in third position in the standings, just three points behind second-placed Maccabi Netanya and eight points behind Betar. Kiryat Shmona drew 0-0 with Betar at Teddy Stadium when the teams first met this season and is unbeaten in its last 13 matches, with its last loss coming against Maccabi Haifa almost four months ago. Jerusalem has been far from convincing in recent weeks, only winning two of its last five matches. The match against Kiryat Shmona will be the first of four crucial matches the team will play in the next 11 days. On Tuesday, the reigning champion hosts Haifa in a postponed league match, next Saturday Betar faces Netanya and three days later it visits Bnei Sakhnin in the ninth round of the State Cup. "Kiryat Shmona is an excellent team, which gives every side in the league a tough time," Betar defender Shimon Gershon said. "We couldn't beat them at Teddy and I hope we can get the job done this time. We will have to be at our very best in the next two weeks." Amit Ben-Shushan, who has been one of Betar's better players recently, is confident his team can cope with its busy schedule. "Playing Kiryat Shmona on the road is very difficult, but we have made every preparation possible," Ben-Shushan said after Thursday's training session which was held in pouring rain. "We have a very stressful period ahead of us, with two matches a week. We are, however, experienced players and will do our very best." Maccabi Haifa, which lost to Netanya in its last league match, hosts rock-bottom Bnei Yehuda on Saturday. Haifa can't afford to drop any more points in the coming weeks if it's to keep pace with the top teams and is a massive favorite against Bnei Yehuda. The southern Tel Avivian's have lost 12 of their last 14 matches and were humbled 4-0 by Maccabi Tel Aviv last week. "Bnei Yehuda is fighting for its life and that's dangerous," Haifa coach Roni Levy said. "We need to concentrate on our own play and return to winning ways." Second-placed Netanya will look to extend its eight match clean-sheet streak when it visits Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday. Kfar Saba has suffered a slump in form in recent weeks, failing to claim a win in its last four matches. Also Saturday, Ashdod SC hosts Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Herzliya visits Maccabi Petah Tikva. On Sunday, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts arch-rival Hapoel in a derby match which will have serious implications for both clubs' battles against relegation.