Stingy Kiryat Shmona win 7th straight

Northerners extend lead over 2nd place Ashdod to six points ahead of showdown.

HAPOEL TEL AVIV striker Toto Tamuz 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
HAPOEL TEL AVIV striker Toto Tamuz 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s relentless charge continued to gather pace on Wednesday night after Ran Ben-Shimon’s team increased its lead at the top of the Premier League standings to six points with its seventh straight victory.
Kiryat Shmona had to dig deep once more, but its defensive prowess ensured it picked up all three points for the 11th time in 12 matches, beating Hapoel Petah Tikva 2-0 at home.
Ahmed Abed gave the hosts the lead in the 76th minute before Shlomi Azulai wrapped up the win in the second minute of stoppage time.
Kiryat Shmona extended its cleansheet streak to four matches, with the northerners conceding just two goals over their past 10 encounters.
“It is true we didn’t play well in the first half, but we improved after the break and controlled the match,” Ben- Shimon said. “We have won 11 of 12 matches, but that doesn’t make next week’s game against Ashdod any easier. That is a match we do not want to lose.”
Kiryat Shmona faces an intriguing showdown next Monday at secondplaced Ashdod SC, which dropped further behind the league-leader on Wednesday after drawing 1-1 with reigning-champion Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Ashdod fans were already dreaming of a seventh win in eight matches when Idan Shriki put Yossi Mizrahi’s side in the driving seat with an excellent leftfooted finish in the 38th minute.
However, Vladimir Dvalishvili ensured the crumbling Haifa didn’t lose for the fourth time in five games, equalizing in the 65th, five minutes after coming on as a substitute.
“It is very difficult for us with our limited squad to play at a high level twice in four days,” said Mizrahi, whose team impressed in a 2-1 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.
“We got the match off to a slow start, but we managed to score and it is a shame we conceded a coincidental goal. No one believed that our match against Kiryat Shmona would be between the top two teams in the standings, but we know that in soccer anything is possible.”
Haifa coach Elisha Levy tried to console himself with the fact that his team dominated the possession on Wednesday.
“We played the way we should do, but Ashdod reached one chance and converted it,” Levy said. “We fought back and collected one point, but that doesn’t satisfy us. There are times when everything goes difficult and our challenge is to pull out of this slump.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv is now nine points behind Kiryat Shmona after failing to win for a fourth consecutive match, drawing 1-1 with Betar Jerusalem at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Toto Tamuz scored the opener from the penalty spot in the 10th minute, but Betar fully deserved to return home with a point, with Liron Diamant equalizing with a superb volley in the 79th.
Betar can be encouraged by its performance on Wednesday, but its second straight draw means it is winless in its past seven matches, triumphing in just one of its last 14 games.
“We created enough chances to win,” Betar coach Yuval Naim said. “I’m disappointed because we deserved to win. But this is nevertheless an important point.”
Also Wednesday, Bnei Sakhnin won for the fourth time in five games and strengthened its place in the top four, defeating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 on the road thanks to Ohad Kadusi’s 18th-minute strike.
Maccabi Tel Aviv climbed to fifth place on Wednesday, four points back of Sakhnin, with a 3-1 victory over Hapoel Rishon Lezion at Bloomfield Stadium.
Eliran Atar gave Maccabi the lead in the 29th minute, only for David Gomez to equalize for Rishon six minutes after the break.
However, Barak Itzhaki put Tel Aviv back in front in the 79th and Munas Dabbur clinched the three points six minutes later with an accurate effort from the edge of the box.
“We looked really bad at certain stages, but we knew how to pull out of it and score two goals to claim the win,” Maccabi coach Nir Levine said. “This was not an impressive win and I’m happy luck was on our side tonight.”
Maccabi Netanya ended a five-match winless streak on Wednesday, recording its first clean-sheet of the season to claim a 1-0 victory at Maccabi Petah Tikva courtesy of Hen Ezra’s 72nd-minute goal.
Hapoel Beersheba moved three points clear of the relegation zone with its fourth win in five matches on Wednesday, beating Hapoel Acre 2-1 at Vasermil Stadium.
Dovev Gabai scored the opener for the hosts in the 28th minute, but Acre’s Nicolas Falczuk tied the score three minutes into the second half.
Acre found itself with its back against the wall after Yuval Shabtai’s sending off in the 74th and Yossi Shivhon’s winner 10 minutes from time gave Beersheba three more precious points in its battle against relegation.