Birkirkara made sure of starting the Championship Pool on top, at least as joint-leaders, after beating Qormi 2-0. In fact, thanks to these three points, the Stripes will start the second phase with twenty points after the 39 points are halved and rounded up. Valletta would take first place but would also start with twenty points should they beat Dingli on Monday as they would end the second round with 40 points.
Qormi, on the other hand, will start their Championship Pool commitments in third place, on 18 points.
Birkirkara lacked George Mallia but Joseph Zerafa and Angus Buhagiar were back on the bench, like Qormi’s Camilo Da Silva Sanvezzo who had missed the last two matches. Sylvano Comvalius, who is expected to join Spartak Nalchik in Russia, was also among the substitutes, following another trial with the Russian club in Antalya, Turkey.
The two teams shared the exchanges early in the game with the two sides going close with attempts by Trevor Cilia for Birkirkara and Alfred Effiong for Qormi.
The Stripes managed to take the lead on 22 minutes when off a cross by Paul Fenech, Michael Galea served Karl Pulo whose close-range header beat Matthew Farrugia.
Birkirkara went close once again a minute later when Shaun Bajada released Trevor Cilia on the right but the latter’s powerful shot was blocked by goalkeeper Matthew Farrugia. On the other side of the pitch, Matthew Bartolo sent Alfred Effiong through but his attempt was turned into a corner by Jorge Mora on 29 minutes. Two minutes later, Stefan Giglio headed just wide off a Joseph Farrugia corner from the right.
On 66 minutes, Birkirkara doubled the score when the Qormi defence failed the clear the ball inside the area following a cross from the right and Trevor Cilia managed to hit past goalkeeper Matthew Farrugia.
One minute from time, a low freekick by substitute Camilo Da Silva Sanvezzo from the right scraped past the post.
Trevor Cilia was voted BOV Player of the Match.
B’KARA Jorge Mora, Karl Pulo, Nikola Vukanac, Branko Nisevic, Carlo Mamo, Thomas Paris, Shaun Bajada (80′ Alan Tabone), Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat, Michael Galea (61′ Sylvano Comvalius), Trevor Cilia (86′ Joseph Zerafa).
Subs not used: Omar Borg, Andrew Scicluna, Angus Buhagiar, Andreas Galea.
Coach: Paul Zammit Team Manager: Mario Gatt
QORMI Matthew Farrugia, Jonathan Bondin, Stephen Wellman, Lucas Ramon Dos Santos, Duncan Pisani, Massimo Grima (77′ Keith Fenech), Ryan Deguara (46′ Camilo Da Silva Sanvezzo), Stefan Giglio, Joseph Farrugia, Alfred Effiong, Matthew Bartolo (69′ Steve Meilak).
Subs not used: Matthew Camilleri, Roderick Sammut, Kenneth Spiteri, Malcolm Buttigieg.
Coach: Vince Carbonaro Team Manager: Jesmond Zerafa
Referee: Adrian Azzopardi
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, Mariano Debono
Fourth Official: Marco Borg
Yellow Cards: Paris, Camilo, Wellman
Meanwhile in the second game, nine-man Sliema Wanderers held Hibernians in a 2-2 draw. The Blues therefore stay in fourth place and will start the second phase on fifteen points, five behind the leaders and one ahead of Hibs.
For the Paolites, this was yet another disappointing result as they have now gone six matches without a win.
Sliema were a better side for almost all of the first half but the sending-off of Ryan Fenech was the turning point of the game. In fact, the Paolites had an edge over their opponents during the second half.
Both sides were unable to field their best formation due to the absence of Pedro Dos Santos Calcado and Mark Scerri for Sliema, Jonathan Pearson for Hibernians. Etienne Barbara started the game on the bench for the Paolites.
The Wanderers managed to take the lead on 32 minutes when off a John Mintoff freekick, Josef Mifsud addressed the ball into the direction of captain Ivan Woods who tapped the ball home from close range.
Hibs replied with a Triston Caruana corner from which Adrian Pulis headed just wide on 35 minutes but Sliema went close once again three minutes later with a powerful shot from outside the area by Ivan Woods which was turned into a corner by Mario Muscat.
Four minutes from time, an Adrian Pulis effort seemed destined for goal but Ryan Fenech stopped the ball with his hand. Referee Paul Caruana sent off the Sliema midfielder and ordered a penalty. From the penalty spot, Andrew Cohen made no mistake.
The Paolites went close to taking the lead five minutes after the break with a good shot by Adrian Pulis from the left but Simon Agius blocked with his feet. Three minutes later, Christian Callejas’ first time effort, following a cross from the left by Pulis, was parried by the Sliema custodian.
On 55 minutes, following a freekick from the right by Andrew Cohen, Aaron Xuereb headed the ball in the direction of Adrian Pulis who however failed to connect from close range. Three minutes later, a direct freekick by Clayton Failla for Sliema was turned into a corner by Mario Muscat. On 61 minutes, Muscat performed a good save on a header by Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza following a cross from the right by Alex Muscat.
Simon Agius performed another great save on a Jonathan Caruana effort, served by Barbara on 68 minutes.
Hibernians forged ahead on 76 minutes when Etienne Barbara concluded a solo effort by rounding a defender on the left and pulling to the right before hitting low past goalkeeper Simon Agius.
Three minutes later, Sliema were reduced to nine men after Alex Muscat was given marching orders for a foul on Andrew Cohen who was heading towards goal. From the resulting freekick, Cohen’s effort was saved by Agius aided by the bar.
Sliema notched the equaliser one minute from time when off a Clayton Failla corner from the left, the ball reached Ivan Woods whose fine first-time effort gave goalkeeper Mario Muscat no chance.
Three minutes in added time, a beautiful attempt by Miguel Lopes De Pina from the outside the area ended just wide.
Mario Muscat was voted BOV Player of the Match.
SLIEMA Simon Agius, Alex Muscat, Ian Azzopardi, Josef Mifsud, Ryan Fenech, Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (92’ Clifford Gatt Baldacchino), Ivan Woods, Lucian Dronca, Ian Ciantar (85’ Julio Cesar Alcorse), John Mintoff (61’ Noel Turner), Clayton Failla.
Subs not used: Jeremy Alden, Luca Martinelli, Amadeo Mercieca, Klinsmann Grech.
Coach: Mark Marlow Team Manager: Rupert Perry
HIBS Mario Muscat, Jonathan Caruana, Edward Herrera, Adrian Pulis, Aaron Xuereb, Triston Caruana (59’ Etienne Barbara), Christian Callejas (87’ Ben Camilleri), Ryan Camilleri, Miguel Lopes De Pina, Elton Morelato, Andrew Cohen.
Subs not used: Daniel Balzan, Elkien Cauchi, Yan Cauchi, Chris Camilleri.
Coach: Mark Miller Asst. Coach: Edmond Lufi
Referee: Paul Caruana
Assistant Referees: Philip Agius, Konrad Borg
Fourth Official: Kevin Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: R. Fenech, T. Caruana, E. Herrera, C. Failla, E. Barbara
Red Cards: 41’ Ryan Fenech, 79′ Alex Muscat