Jerusalem blow title race wide open



Early strikes from Mordy Weiler and Akiva Zneimer helped Jerusalem move to within a point of long-time leaders Ra'anana after registering their fifth consecutive victory.

The eagerly awaited top-of-the-table clash did not disappoint, with Jerusalem cutting Ra'anana's lead at the top, that had stood at 10 points three weeks ago, down to just one, leaving the Sports Direct Olim League title race wide open.

Going into the game near full-strength, Ra'anana knew that with only four games to play after this blockbuster, a draw for the leaders would have maintained their four-point lead and put all but clinched what would be a maiden league title. They also knew that this would be their sternest test for their invincibles to maintain their unbeaten run.

Jerusalem, rocked by a mini injury crisis, were forced to name two debutants on the bench. Mordy Weiler, who had been ill during the week passed a late fitness test, and was fortunately well enough to start.

Indeed it was Jerusalem who raced out of the traps, breaking down Ra'anana straight from the kick-off. Akiva Zneimer, intercepted, and passed to Dan Cohen, whose slick pass released his twin brother Gav who took the ball to the byline and expertly crossed for Weiler to cushion his header in at the back post. 1-0 to Jerusalem with only 20 seconds on the clock!

Ra'anana were stunned by yet another quick start from Jerusalem, beating their electric start against them in the same fixture last year, by a full three second. It was virtually one-way traffic for the first 10 minutes, with both Cohens putting decent efforts wide.

Jerusalem deservedly got a second in the 11th minute, when Zneimer picked up the ball in the middle and cutting in, let rip a 25 yard shot that gave Sapir Marom no chance, kissing the post on its way in.

Two almost became three with Sapir making an excellent stop to deny Weiler his second of the night.

The half petered out with Jerusalem on the slight ascendency, but with neither side posing any further serious threat on goal.

Jerusalem went in search of more goals at the start of the second half. A corner from Zneimer was met by Moishe Lewis who headed wide with the goal at his mercy.

Ra'anana rallied and almost hit straight back, but a great move culminated in a tame shot that was easily caught by Daniel Boerstra.

At times, it was end-to-end, with Jerusalem mounting the next attack, with Zneimer firing over.

After a frantic opening five minutes, Ra'anana found another gear. A great team move found Aviad Ben Meir, only to see his shot deflected behind for a corner.

Ra'anana then started playing some great football, showing why they are the top dogs this year, and had another couple of half chances before Boerstra was called into action again, tipping a clever flick from the energetic Gavriel Kanichowsky round the post for another corner.

With just under quarter of an hour to go, Ra'anana's second-half display was rewarded with the goal they deserved when the ball fell kindly in the crowded box, for the league's top-scorer Ben Meir to notch his 20th goal of the season, with the impenetrable Jerusalem defense finally being breached.

With the bit between their teeth, Ra'anana went in search for the equaliser, but everything they threw at the Jerusalem goal, was lapped up by the Jerusalem defence. With a few minutes remaining, Boerstra produced the save of the game, expertly tipping another Ra'anana goal bound effort round the post.

With Ra'anana pushing everyone forward, including goalkeeper Marom, for the corner as the 90 minutes drew to a close, Jerusalem countered, and looked destined to score the killer third. With the Ra'anana goalkeeper in no-man's-land, instead of shooting, Weiler decided to unselfishly pass the ball, however with only one defensive player behind the ball and no keeper in sight, the referee correctly called offside.

With the three minutes of time added on, which eventually turned into five additional minutes, Jerusalem were almost left to rue that miss, as Ra'anana had one last threat on goal, only for Dan Kosky to make the timeliest of challenges to snuff out the last chance of the game, and bring to an end Ra'anana's very impressive unbeaten run.

Jerusalem's joint-manager Danny Newman was full of praise for his players at the final whistle. "We somehow managed to dig deep and get a competitive squad together for this game.

"I felt we dominated the first half and could have put the game to bed with a great effort at the start of the second.

"We knew Ra'anana would come back, and to be fair, they were the stronger side in the second half. Our back four and keeper kept our two-goal cushion in tact for most of the game, and raised their game further, after Ra'anana pulled themselves back into the game for a nail-biting last 15.

"With two passionate sides at the right end of the table, there were moments when things could have boiled over, but former MSFL ref, Aron Djanogly controlled the game superbly, with the game being played out in a great competitive spirit.

"With only four games to go, we know that despite reducing the lead to one point, the trophy is still very much in Ra'anana's own hands, and with their remaining fixtures against teams in the lower half of the table, I can't see them slipping up with the quality squad that they have.

"Having said that, we will still try and keep the pressure on, making them work for their first title, though should they slip, it will still take some miracle for us to overcome our own mini injury crisis and win all our remaining four games, two of which are against two of the other sides in the top four."

RA'ANANA: Sapir Marom, Ronen Goldsmith, Hillel Bloch, Mike Isaacson, Cliff Corney, Moshe Freedman, Tal Forscher, Chanani Corney, Josh Lipman, Alberto 'Tito' Telias, Zeev Landsman, Naphtali Kanichowsky, Haim Elimelech, Gaby Kanichowsky, Aviad Ben Meir, Gavriel Lebens

Goals: Aviad Ben Meir (76)

Yellow card: Gaby Kanichowsky

Daniel Boerstra, David Preston, Dan Kosky, Solomon Emeke Eza, Danny Sigal, Eli Warner, Gav Cohen, Eyal Toledo, Akiva Zneimer, Mordy Weiler, Dan Cohen.
Subs: Moishe Lewis, Avi Margolis, Jeremy Bornstein

Mordy Weiler (1), Akiva Zneimer (11)

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