First defeat for Valletta

Valletta FC vs Hibernians FC 0-1 (HT 0-1)

Hibernians moved second, on level points with Birkirkara and Qormi as they inflicted the first defeat on leaders Valletta, beating them 1-0. The Citizens lie three points ahead of these three teams but these all have a game in hand.

Valletta coach Ton Caanen made no changes to the team which defeated Qormi as the returning Jordi Cruyff and Dyson Falzon started the game on the bench. Hibs, on the other hand, had one change from the team which drew with Birkirkara as Aaron Xuereb replaced Ryan Camilleri. Andrew Cohen and Ben Camilleri were both missing for the Paolites.

The first attempt at goal occurred after eight minutes when off a cross from the right by Edward Herrera, Etienne Barbara’s close-range effort was parried by Andrew Hogg. Nine minutes later, Jonathan Pearson tested Hogg with a powerful long-distance shot. Valletta replied with a Steve Bezzina freekick from the right which was neutralised by Mario Muscat.

Rumen Galabov was stopped on the edge of the area following a great run on 22 minutes. The ball reached Edward Herrera who however was judged to have fouled Steve Bezzina in the process. This decisions brought protests by Hibs coach Mark Miller who was sent off following the intervention of fourth official Kevin Azzopardi.

Hibernians took the lead on 33 minutes when off a cross from the left, Jonathan Pearson’s close-range effort hit the foot of the upright but off the rebound, Edward Herrera placed the ball at the back of the net.

Valletta replied with a Gilbert Agius freekick from the edge of the area which was turned into a corner by Mario Muscat on 35 minutes.

Nine minutes in the second half, Agius had another freekick from the left parried by the Hibs custodian. Muscat then saved a long-distance freekick by Roderick Briffa. Another freekick by Agius on 68 minutes ended wide while a cross shot by Njongo Priso was neutralised by Muscat.

The Citizens maintained the pressure on the Hibs defence and Scerri anticipated Muscat with a header off a cross by Briffa but the ball ended wide on 73 minutes. A powerful shot by Njongo Priso from the right was blocked into a corner. On the other side of the pitch, in a swift counter-attack for the Paolites, Barbara served Galabov who released Herrera on the right before the latter tested Hogg with a long distance shot.

Six minutes from time, Hibernians appealed for a penalty after Rumen Galabov seemed to have been pushed inside the area. However referee Adrian Azzopardi waved play on and cautioned the Hibs midfielder for simulation.

In added time, the Citizens went all out in search of the equaliser but substitute Ryan Camilleri came close to doubling the score for the Paolites following a counter-attack. However Hogg neutralised his effort.

VALLETTA Andrew Hogg, Steve Bezzina (80′ Dyson Falzon), Roderick Briffa, Luke Dimech, Kenneth Scicluna, Jamie Pace, Gilbert Agius (88′ Jordi Cruyff), Kevin Sammut, Njongo Priso, Geert den Ouden (66′ Ian Zammit), Terence Scerri.
Subs not used: Nicky Vella, Edmond Agius, Justin Grioli, Steve Borg.
Coach: Ton Caanen
Team Manager: Nicky Saliba

HIBS Mario Muscat, Jonathan Caruana, Edward Herrera (89′ Matthew Tabone), Adrian Pulis, Aaron Xuereb, Jonathan Pearson (63′ Ryan Camilleri), Christian Callejas, Etienne Barbara, Olegs Malasenoks, Rumen Galabov, Kevin Cassar.
Subs not used: Daniel Balzan, Triston Caruana, Leighton Grech, Ayrton Azzopardi.
Coach: Mark Miller
Asst. Coach: Edmond Lufi

Referee: Adrian Azzopardi
Assistant Referees: Philip Agius, Mariano Debono
Fourth Official: Kevin Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: Priso, Scerri, Pace, Barbara, Xuereb, Scicluna, Galabov
BOV Player of the Match: Mario Muscat
Scorers: 33′ Edward Herrera