Despite lacking six players due to injuries and suspensions, champions Birkirkara had a positive start as they came from behind to beat Sliema Wanderers 4-1.
The Blues were off to a perfect start, taking an early lead but once they equalised, the Stripes never looked back and turned the score in their favour with two goals by the end of the first half, adding another after the break.
Birkirkara had no less than five players suspended, namely Carl Pulo, Patrick Borg, Shaun Bajada, Nikola Vukanac and Paul Fenech. Alan Tabone was ruled out injured.
They had Scottish midfielder Ryan Harding, Maltese-Australian midfielder Simon Zahra, Under-21 international Terence Vella and goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo making their debut while Ezequiel Lovizon, Andrew Decesare and Emiliano Lattes were making their first league appearance after playing for the Stripes in the Euro Cup or the Super Cup.
Brazilian striker Jackson Lima Sequeira made his debut for the Wanderers who also had Viktor Szentpeteri, Sekou Tidiane Souare and Obinna Obiefule making their first league appearance. Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza, Alex Muscat and Roderick Bajada were missing for the Blues.
The Wanderers held the initiative early in the game, going close on the 3rd when off a Clayton Failla corner from the left, a goal-bound header by Josef Mifsud was cleared off the goal-line by Trevor Cilia.
Four minutes later, Birkirkara lost goalkeeper Ezequiel Lovizon injured and was replaced by Manuel Bartolo.
Sliema managed to take the lead on 12 minutes when off a swift counter-attack, Obinna Obiefule served Jackson Lima Sequeira on the left and the latter beat goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo.
Birkirkara levelled matters on 28 minutes when Sekou Tidiane Souare handled the ball inside the area following a cross by Trevor Cilia from the right. Referee Marco Borg ordered a penalty and Michael Galea made no mistake from the penalty spot.
An angled shot by John Mintoff from the right ended just wide on 31 minutes. Three minutes later, a fine shot by Cilia was blocked by Szentpeteri and off the rebound, the ball reached Angus Buhagiar whose powerful shot from outside the area was turned into a corner by the Hungarian goalkeeper.
The Stripes took the 36 minutes when they were awarded a freekick. The attempt by Emiliano Lattes was partially saved by Szentpeteri and off the rebound, Michael Galea hit home from close range.
A direct freekick by Lattes three minutes from the end of the first half scraped past the post after a good solo run by Trevor Cilia was halted by Mark Scerri just outside the area.
Five minutes in added time, Birkirkara increased the lead when off a cross by Emiliano Lattes from the left, Terence Vella tapped the ball home from close range.
Five minutes in the second half, a cross shot by Trevor Cilia was tipped into a corner by Szentpeteri. Two minutes later, Cilia cleared off the goal-line a header by Obiefule for Sliema. On the other side of the pitch, Cilia served Emiliano Lattes whose fine curved shot from the left ended just wide.
Terence Vella, served by Lattes, had a powerful shot from outside the area saved by Szentpeteri on 67 minutes. Three minutes later, following a cross by Jackson Lima from the right, a header by Obiefule was parried by Manuel Bartolo.
Four minutes from time, John Mintoff was sent off for Sliema following a rough tackle on Decesare.
Two minutes in added time, Emiliano Lattes scored a fourth low as he slotted the ball past Szentpeteri from the edge of the area after receiving a through-pass.
Trevor Cilia was voted BOV Player of the Match.
Photos: Copyright © www.stephengatt.com
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SLIEMA Viktor Szentpeteri, Josef Mifsud, Sekou Tidiane Souare, Mark Scerri, Miguel Ciantar (70’ Noel Turner), Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Jackson Lima Sequeira, Obinna Polycarp Obiefule, John Mintoff, Beppe Muscat (62’ James Paris), Clayton Failla.
Subs not used: Ini Etim Aktpan, Julian Briffa, Ryan Dalli, Adam Spiteri, Valdo Alhinho.
Coach: Mark Marlow
Assistant Coach: Joseph Bajada
B’KARA Ezequiel Lovizon (7’ Manuel Bartolo), Simon Zahra, Ryan Harding, Rowen Muscat, Andrew Decesare, Terence Vella (85’ Ryan Scicluna), Trevor Cilia (81’ Thomas Paris), Emiliano Lattes, Joseph Zerafa, Michael Galea, Angus Buhagiar.
Subs not used: Andreas Galea, Ian Schembri, Fabian Zammit, Michael Camilleri.
Coach: Paul Zammit
Assistant Coach: Branko Nisevic
Referee Marco Borg
Assistant Referees: Konrad Borg, William Debattista
Fourth Official: Chris Lautier
Yellow Cards: J. Lima, S. Souare, S. Zahra, J. Mintoff, M. Scerri, A. Decesare
Red Cards: 86′ Mintoff
Scorers: 12’ Jackson Lima Sequeira (S); 28’ Michael Galea penalty (B); 36’ Michael Galea (B); 45+5’ Terence Vella (B); 90+2′ Emiliano Lattes (B)