Adrian Pulis scored twice for Hibernians as the champions held Birkirkara in a 2-2 draw, denying the Stripes the possibility of taking sole leadership. Birkirkara now enjoy the top spot, on level points with Valletta and one ahead of Qormi.
Hibernians lacked Etienne Barbara, suspended, and Christian Callejas, injured, while Andrew Cohen started the game on the bench. Missing for Birkirkara was Joseph Zerafa while Trevor Cilia was only included as a substitute.
The Paolites were more agressive in the opening minutes with an Olegs Malasenoks close-range effort neutralised by Jorge Mora on the 5th minute. Three minutes later, Rumen Galabov released Edward Herrera inside the area and off the latter’s cross from the right, Chris Camilleri tested the Spanish goalkeeper with a fine shot.
The Stripes replied with a cross by Alan Tabone from the left from which Michael Galea headed just wide on 9 minutes. Five minutes later, a diagonal shot by Alan Tabone, off a cross by Comvalius, scraped past the post.
Birkirkara took the lead on the 20th when off a corner from the left by Alan Tabone, Branko Nisevic headed home in style.
The Paolites had to wait until the 36th to try their luck with a Ben Camilleri effort from the right which was neutralised by the Birkirkara custodian.
Three minutes from the end of the first half, Hibernians were awarded a penalty after Shaun Bajada handled the ball inside the area. However Chris Camilleri’s effort from the penalty spot was partially saved by Jorge Mora and Branko Nisevic cleared the ball into a corner before the Hibs midfielder could take the rebound.
Six minutes in the second half, substitute Elkien Cauchi gained possession inside the area, serving Olegs Malasenoks on the right and the latter provided a perfect pass to Ben Camilleri who hit high.
Hibernians levelled matters on the hour when off a cross from the right by Ben Camilleri, Adrian Pulis controlled before slotting past Jorge Mora.
However their joy was short-lived as less than a minute later, Karl Pulo received a good pass inside the area and after rounding Muscat, he slammed the ball home.
On 69 minutes, the Stripes went close once again with a fierce shot by Michael Galea, served by Sylvano Comvalius from the left, but Mario Muscat neutralised his effort. Then off a cross by Comvalius, a first-timer by Michael Galea was blocked by Muscat into a corner on 81 minutes.
Birkirkara seemed heading for victory but Hibs had other thoughts as they notched the equaliser on the 90th when off an Andrew Cohen freekick, Adrian Pulis headed the ball past Mora to make it 2-2.
Jorge Mora was voted BOV Player of the Match.
B’KARA Jorge Mora, Paul Fenech, Nikola Vukanac, Branko Nisevic, Karl Pulo (72′ Trevor Cilia), Alan Tabone, Rowen Muscat, Shaun Bajada, Thomas Paris, Michael Galea (83′ Angus Buhagiar), Sylvano Comvalius.
Subs not used: Omar Borg, Andrew Scicluna, Lee Borg, Djansand Brincat, Ryan Scicluna.
Coach: Paul Zammit Team Manager: Mario Gatt
HIBS Mario Muscat, Ryan Camilleri (46′ Elkien Cauchi)(79′ Triston Caruana), Aaron Xuereb, Jonathan Caruana, Adrian Pulis, Rumen Galabov, Jonathan Pearson, Chris Camilleri, Edward Herrera, Olegs Malasenoks (77′ Andrew Cohen), Ben Camilleri.
Subs not used: Daniel Balzan, Matthew Tabone, Dylan Sammut, Matthew Hammett.
Coach: Mark Miller Asst. Coach: Edmond Lufi
Referee: Adrian Azzopardi
Asst. Referees: Philip Agius, Joe Camilleri
Fourth Official: Kevin Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: Fenech, R. Muscat, Tabone