Top-of-table Kiryat Shmona keeps truckin’

Another clean sheet for Ben-Shimon’s boys; Betar loses again; Mac TA finally triumphs.

Barak Itzhaki 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Barak Itzhaki 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona ensured itself at least one more week atop of the Premier League standings on Saturday, defeating Hapoel Haifa 1-0 for its ninth win in its past 10 matches.
Adrian Rochet’s superb strike from 20 meters out in the 73rd minute increased Kiryat Shmona’s gap from second-placed Ashdod SC to four points, with Hapoel Tel Aviv having a chance to close to within two points of the leaders should it win at Maccabi Petah Tikva on Sunday.
It would have only been natural for Kiryat Shmona to experience a letdown after last week’s impressive victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv.
However, Ran Ben-Shimon’s club has stood up to every test it has faced so far this season and took all three points once more on Saturday after another stellar defensive performance.
Kiryat Shmona has maintained a clean-sheet in four of its past five matches, conceding just three goals over its last 11 league games.
Ashdod lost ground on the northerners after being held to a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday.
Amir Nusbaum gave the hosts the lead in the 15th minute, but Israel Rosh equalized 14 minutes later and ensured Ashdod extended its unbeaten streak to 10 matches despite failing to win its sixth straight game.
Meanwhile, Betar Jerusalem is just two points clear of the relegation zone after dropping to its fourth defeat in five matches on Saturday, losing 1-0 to Hapoel Beersheba at Teddy Stadium.
The turning point of the match arrived in the 30th minute when Beersheba’s Ohad Levita saved Amit Ben-Shushan’s penalty with his feet and just moments later Betar’s Avi Rikan was sent off for a reckless foul on Itzik Vaknin.
Ido Eksbard scored the only goal of the match in the 83rd minute, heading beyond goalkeeper Ariel Harush, who was having an excellent game until that stage.
“We have made some significant progress, but there is still a long way to go,” said Beersheba coach Guy Levy after seeing his team win its third straight match following a dismal start to the season in which it triumphed just once in 11 games.
There were numerous calls from the stands for the head of Betar coach Yuval Naim after Saturday’s final whistle, but he still believes he can lift the team despite only guiding it to a single victory in its last 12 matches.
“It would have been a completely different match had the penalty gone in,” Naim said. “We need to remain positive.
We will strengthen the team and we will stay in the top flight.
“I’m sure I can bring about a change.
I will stay as long as Betar wants me and as long as I think I can help.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv finally returned to winning ways on Saturday, claiming its first win in seven league matches with a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Petah Tikva at Bloomfield Stadium thanks to Barak Itzhaki’s 10th minute goal.
Bnei Sakhnin moved up to fourth place on Saturday, defeating Hapoel Rishon Lezion 1-0 courtesy of Ohad Kadusi’s sixth minute strike.
Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda unexpectedly hit top form, scoring four goals in 19 second half minutes to claim a 4-1 win over Hapoel Acre at Bloomfield.
Pedro Galvan (62), Dino Ndlovu (66) and Amir Agajev (70, 80) scored for the winners, with Stefan Scepovic netting a consolation penalty (78) for Acre.