Balzan defeated Gzira United 2-1 at the Hibernians Stadium to stay on top the BOV Premier League table, one point ahead of Hibernians and five ahead of third-placed Floriana.
For Gzira, this was the first defeat after two positive results against the bottom two teams which enabled them to stay clear of both Mosta and Pembroke.
Balzan had four changes from the team which defeated Hibernians as Christian Cassar, Justin Grioli, Samir Arab and Alan da Silva Souza replaced Ivan Janjusevic and the suspended Elkin Serrano, Alfred Effiong and Bojan Kaljevic. The Maroons had new signings Ian Azzopardi, Ige Abdullahi Adeshina and Louis Rene Zome all included in the starting line-up while Emerson Amaira was included as a substitute.
The leaders managed to break the deadlock four minutes from the end of the first half thanks to Matteo Piciollo who concluded a good run on the left flank by beating Gzira goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio with a fine shot from a close angle.
However three minutes later, Gzira equalised when off an assist from the left, Ricardo Calixto Correa Duarte beat Christian Cassar with a powerful shot from inside the area.
Balzan regained the lead six minutes from time when an Alan da Silva Souza freekick was partially saved by the goalkeeper and Matteo Piciollo tapped the ball home from close range.
GZIRA Mauro Boerchio, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino (89′ Emerson Amaira), Souleymane Diamoutene, Zachary Scerri, Ricardo Calixto Correa Duarte (80′ Karl Pulo), Ian Azzopardi, Jonathan Bondin, Louis Rene Zome, Juan Carlos Corbalan, Moises Avila Perez, Ige Abdullahi Adeshina (70′ Andre White).
Subs not used: Jurgen Borg, Jacob Borg, Jean Pierre Vella, Salvatore Grixti.
Coach: Darren Abdilla
BALZAN Christian Cassar, Justin Grioli (46′ Lydon Micallef), Bruno Giglio de Oliveira, Dylan Grima, Samir Arab, Ryan Fenech, Alan da Silva Souza (87′ Terence Agius), Abdelkarim Nafti (76′ Anderson Francisco de Barros), Clive Brincat, Paul Fenech, Matteo Piciollo.
Subs not used: Ivan Janjusevic, Paul Lapira, Gary Camilleri, Sean Cipriott.
Coach: Oliver Spiteri
Referee: Etienne Mangion
Assistant Referees: Luke Portelli, Ryan Aquilina
Fourth Official: Sandro Spiteri
Yellow Cards: R. Fenech, Bondin, Gatt Baldacchino
BOV Player of the Match: Ricardo Correa
Attendance at the Hibernians Stadium: 389
Meanwhile a goal on the hour by Jackson Lima enabled Hibernians to bounce back from the defeat to Balzan in their last outing as they defeated Valletta 1-0 at the National Stadium. A win which keeps the Paolites one point behind the leaders.
For Valletta, this was the first defeat after a fine run of ten consecutive wins. Ironically their last defeat was the 0-2 defeat to Hibernians in the first round. This defeat leaves the Citizens in joint-fourth place together with Birkirkara, two points behind rivals Floriana and seven behind leaders Balzan.
Valletta lacked Roderick Briffa and Michael Mifsud but had Rowen Muscat and Lithuanian striker Tomas Radzinevicius making their debut. They had three changes as Muscat, Radzinevicius and Romeu Romao replaced Claudio Pani, Llywelyn Cremona and Michael Mifsud. Hibs lacked the suspended Johann Bezzina. From their last game, Andrew Cohen and Clayton Failla replaced Tabone Desira and Bezzina.
Hibs scored the all-important goal on the hour when Jurgen Degabriele concluded a good run on the right with a shot which was partially saved by Bartkus and off the rebound, Jackson Lima hit low past the Valletta custodian.
HIBS Andrew Hogg, Jackson Lima, Rodolfo Soares, Marcelo Dias, Andrew Cohen (78′ Timothy Tabone Desira), Bjorn Kristensen, Clayton Failla, Andrei Agius, Joseph Mbong (57′ Renan Pimenta Telles), Jorge da Silva Pereira, Jurgen Degabriele (88′ Dunstan Vella).
Subs not used: Rudy Briffa, Daniel Buckle, Jonathan Pearson, David Xuereb.
Coach: Mark Miller
VALLETTA Dziugas Bartkus, Jonathan Caruana, Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri, Tomas Radzinevicius, Uchenna Umeh (69′ Luke Montebello), Leandro Aguirre (89′ Jean Borg), Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao, Rowen Muscat (84′ Llywelyn Cremona), Valdo Goncalves Alhinho, Romeu Pericles Romao.
Subs not used: Nicky Vella, Russell Fenech, Jean Borg, Matthew Spiteri.
Coach: Paul Zammit
Referee: Clayton Pisani
Assistant Refeerees: Alan Camilleri, Chris Francalanza
Fourth Official: Mario Apap
Yellow Cards: Kristensen, Umeh, Jackson Lima, Soares, Failla
Scorers: 60′ Jackson Lima