Local Soccer: Haifa slips up in sloppy loss at Kiryat Shmona
Hap TA closes gap on league leader to one point by beating Bnei Sakhnin; Bnei Yehuda returns to winning ways with 1-0 victory at home to Mac Petah Tikva.
By JONNY HADI
League leader Maccabi Haifa slipped up again on Saturday evening, going down 1-0 away to its northern rival Ironi Kiryat Shmona on a rain-sodden pitch, and Elisha Levy's men are now just one point ahead at the summit after Hapoel Tel Aviv closed the gap by beating Bnei Sakhnin at Bloomfield Stadium by the same scoreline.
Elsewhere Saturday, there was more misery for Maccabi Tel Aviv after going down by the only goal at Ashdod, and Bnei Yehuda returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory at home to Maccabi Petah Tikva.
At Kiryat Shmona, the hosts dealt well with the conditions - which bordered on the farcical - as time and time again, the ball got held up on the rain-drenched turf.
Haifa had a great chance to take the lead in the first minute, but Thembinkosi Fanteni lost his footing after being played in by Yaniv Katan. Lior Rafaelov then missed a golden opportunity, shooting wide with the goal at his mercy after Alon Harazi's pass went through Salah Hasarma's legs.
At the other end, Hasarma headed a Guy Tzarfati free-kick straight at Haifa 'keeper Nir Davidovich, who then saved well from Yuval Avidor.
But Ironi kept plugging away, and after Leonard Krupnik got a crucial touch to clear Avidor's whipped cross, the hosts got the all-important goal on 71 minutes.
Krupnik's slip allowed Todor Kolev to collect a Dani Bondar pass and, after his sublime first touch took him away from Dekel Keinan, the Bulgarian finished with aplomb.
Haifa then threw everything forward, but Ironi stopper Danny Amos saved brilliantly from Fanteni, before substitute Mohammad Ghadir rattled the Ironi crossbar.
Avidor was sent off four minutes from time for a foul on Masilela, but Ironi held on for a vital victory to end a disastrous run of 12 games without a win.
Kiryat Shmona coach Eli Cohen was delighted with his first victory since taking over.
"It seems like we play better against the top sides, we're more primed," he said, admitting that "the conditions worked in our favor."
"The win was important mentally for the players," he continued. "12 games without a win is irritating. They'd lost confidence. We've been unlucky, so we deserve a bit of good fortune."
Haifa has now lost two matches in a row and has won only two out of the last seven - hardly the form of potential champion.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 1,
Bnei Sakhnin 0
Hapoel Tel Aviv's slick passing proved a bit too much for Sakhnin, although the visitors put on a valiant second-half display.
After Gili Vermuth had gone close with three shots from distance, the home side deservedly took the lead on 33 minutes.
Avihai Yadin, who had just come on for the injured Shai Abutbul, was fouled in the box by Sakhnin's Yaniv Luzon and Hapoel 'keeper Vincent Enyeama smashed in the penalty.
Enyeama saved well from Sakhnin's Oshri Gita and Dionisio Mendes' after the break, but the wind was taken out of the visitors' sails ten minutes from the end when 'keeper Meir Cohen was sent off for handling outside his area, although he maintained that he used his head.
Striker Mendes went in goal and made a string of great saves to deny Hapoel a more convincing victory.
Bnei Yehuda 1,
Maccabi Petah Tikva 0
Bnei Yehuda kept its UEFA Cup hopes alive, thanks to Tomer Hemed's second-half strike.
After a quiet first half in which Bnei Yehuda nearly fell behind to Pablo Bastianini's bouncing header, Guy Luzon's men broke the deadlock just after the interval when Hemed latched on to Assi Baldout's knock-down and finished under Ohad Cohen.
Eliran Atar was inches away from doubling Bnei Yehuda's lead midway though the half, but he hit the bar after showing some nifty footwork.
At the other end, Lior Asulin rattled the woodwork after a Liran Cohen shot had rebounded into his path, and the visitors were a tad unlucky not to draw level in injury-time, as Milan Martinovic made a last-ditch clearance to deny Bastianini and Dele Aiyenugba then made a spectacular save from Cohen.
Ashdod SC 1,
Maccabi Tel Aviv 0
There was more doom and gloom for Avi Nimni as his team lost narrowly at Ashdod and dropped to a lowly ninth place.
The winner came on the stroke of halftime when Igor Tomasic pulled back Lubomir Kubica in the area and David Revivo slotted in the penalty.
Ashdod was reduced to ten men midway through the second half when Kobi Dajani was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Yossi Shivhon, but Maccabi couldn't breach the Ashdod backline.
Hapoel Petah Tikva 1,
Amidar Ramat Gan 0
Hakoach remains three points adrift at the bottom and still seems overwhelming favorite for the drop.
Armon Ben Naim scored the only goal of the game eight minutes from time, capitalizing on an error by Hakoach 'keeper Joslain Mayebi.
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