A goal late in the first half paved the way for Valletta as they defeated Naxxar Lions 3-0 to move thirteen points behind leaders Hibernians. For the team led by Ivan Zammit, this was the fifth consecutive win.
Naxxar, on the other hand, suffered the fourth defeat in five matches.
Dutch striker Djamel Leeflang was making his debut for Valletta but Ryan Fenech was ruled through suspension. Leeflang and Llywelyn Cremona were drafted in the starting line-up with Lateef Elford-Alliyu starting on the bench. Vladimir Savicevic was included as a substitute. Naxxar lacked the suspended Jorge Santos Silva and Pablo Doffo while Gilmar was ruled out injured. They were replaced by David Fenech, Victor Bellia and Demba Toure.
Naxxar threatened the Valletta rear-guard after just three minutes when Daren Falzon, served by Terence Vella, had a fine shot from the right which scraped past the post. Valletta replied with a Llywelyn Cremona effort which was turned into a corner by Julian Azzopardi on the 15th. On the half-hour, Demba Toure headed the ball just over the bar.
In added time, Valletta managed to break the deadlock thanks to Djamel Leeflang whose shot half-height beat the Naxxar custodian when served by Abdelkarim Nafti.
Eleven minutes in the second half, the Lions went close with a Terence Vella freekick from the left. A header from the right by Ibok Edet was parried by Nicky Vella on 69 minutes.
Albert Bruce was then sent off for Naxxar on the 70th after receiving a second yellow card for a foul in midfield.
Eight minutes from time, Valletta sealed the issue with a second goal as substitute Lateef Elford-Alliyu, served by Roderick Briffa, managed to slot the ball past Azzopardi despite the Ibok Edet’s marking.
Lattef Elford-Alliyu added another four minutes from time as he managed to anticipate the Naxxar goalkeeper after receiving a pass on the edge of the area and pulling to the right.
NAXXAR Julian Azzopardi, Andrew Scicluna, Emmanuel Ibok Edet, Victor Bellia, Terence Vella, Mattia Del Negro (79′ Duane Bonnici), Daren Falzon (87′ Jurgen Debono), David Fenech, Angus Buhagiar, Demba Toure, Albert Bruce.
Subs not used: Luke Pecorella, Kurt Drago, Yaron Sammut, Ryan Gilmour Cassar, Ryan Mercieca.
Coach: Jesmond Zerafa
VALLETTA Nicky Vella, Jonathan Caruana, Ian Azzopardi (58′ Shaun Bajada), Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri, Hamza Barry (82′ Vladimir Savicevic), Roderick Briffa, Llywelyn Cremona, Djamel Leeflang (65′ Lateef Elford-Alliyu), Abdelkarim Nafti, Luke Dimech.
Subs not used: Pietro Demetrio Marino, Luke Montbello, Dario Tabone, Kurt Drakard.
Coach: Gilbert Agius
Referee: Philip Farrugia
Assistant Referees: Luke Portelli, Thomas Debono
Fourth Official: Andre Arciola
Yellow Cards: Bruce, Borg
Red Cards: 70′ Albert Bruce
Scorers: 45+1′ Djamel Leeflang, 83′ Lateef Elford-Alliyu, 86′ Lateef Elford-Alliyu
BOV Player of the Match: Abdelkarim Nafti