Birkirkara moved three points clear on top the BOV Premier League table as they defeated Hibernians 2-1 and Valletta were beaten with the same score by Sliema Wanderers.
The Stripes now lead the table with 29 points, followed by Valletta on 26, Qormi and Sliema Wanderers on 21.
The Wanderers had an edge over their opponents although ironically Valletta had managed to equalise when they were one man down. However Sliema eventually regained the lead and could also afford missing a penalty in stoppage time.
Valletta lacked Steve Borg and Njongo Priso as both were serving a one-match ban but Gilbert Agius was back after missing the last game against Hibernians. New recruit Michael Mifsud was unable to make his debut for the Citizens as his signing is yet to be given the go-ahead by the MFA Executive Committee. Sliema, on the other hand, welcomed back Josef Mifsud and John Mintoff although the latter started the game on the bench.
Following a quiet start for the two teams, Sliema managed to take the lead on 25 minutes when off a corner from the left, Ian Azzopardi’s header was deflected by Luke Dimech to end at the back of the net.
Three minutes from the end of the first half, Dyson Falzon served Terence Scerri from the left and the latter controlled before his low shot was deflected into a corner.
In added time, Kevin Sammut had a shot from outside the area neutralised by Simon Agius and then a fine goal-bound effort by Jordi Cruijff was cleared off the goal line by Alex Muscat.
On 62 minutes, Terence Scerri sent Dyson Falzon through in a swift counter-attack for Valletta but the latter was anticipated in time by Alex Muscat before he could conclude.
Two minutes later, Valletta were reduced to ten men after Kenneth Scicluna received a second yellow card for a foul on Pedro Calcado just outside the area. From the resulting freekick by Pedrinho, Ivan Woods headed just wide. On the other side of the pitch, a header by Terence Scerri was neutralised by Andrew Hogg following a freekick from the left by Kevin Sammut on the 70th.
The Citizens equalised on 74 minutes when Declan O’Brien gained possession following a defensive blunder, the Irish striker served Terence Scerri who passed the ball to Gilbert Agius with the Valletta captain beating Simon Agius with a powerful shot.
Sliema regained the lead on 82 minutes when substitute Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza received a good pass on the right flank and after advancing into the area, he beat Hogg with a low shot.
Clayton Failla served Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza with a fine pass from the left on 87 minutes but the latter’s conclusion was neutralised by Hogg. Two minutes later, a Terence Scerri header, off a corner by O’Brien
One minute from time, in a counter-attack for Sliema, Ryan Fenech released Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza inside the area, only for the latter to be floored by goalkeeper Andrew Hogg. Referee Clayton Pisani ordered a penalty but Ivan Woods’ effort from the penalty spot was parried by the Valletta custodian.
Alex Muscat was voted BOV Player of the Match.
Photos: Copyright © www.stephengatt.com
SLIEMA Simon Agius, Alex Muscat, Ian Azzopardi, Josef Mifsud, Ryan Fenech, Mark Scerri, Ivan Woods, Lucian Dronca, Julio Cesar Alcorse (56’ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza), Pedro Dos Santos Calcado (71’ John Mintoff), Clayton Failla (90′ Clifford Gatt Baldacchino).
Subs not used: Jeremy Alden, Noel Turner, Amadeo Mercieca, Ian Ciantar.
Coach: Mark Marlow Team Manager: Rupert Perry
VALLETTA Andrew Hogg, Steve Bezzina, Roderick Briffa, Luke Dimech, Kenneth Scicluna, Jamie Pace, Gilbert Agius, Kevin Sammut (78’ Cleavon Frendo), Jordi Cruijff, Terence Scerri, Dyson Falzon (71’ Declan O’Brien).
Subs not used: Nicky Vella, Dylan Grima, Edmond Agius, Adrian Carabott, Yessous Camilleri.
Coach: Ton Caanen Team Manager: Nicky Saliba
Referee: Clayton Pisani
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, Joe Camilleri
Fourth Official: Anton Zammit
Yellow Cards: M. Scerri, L. Dimech, K. Scicluna, J. Mifsud, R. Briffa, I. Woods, A. Hogg
Red Cards: 64’ Kenneth Scicluna
Scorers: 25’ Ian Azzopardi (S), 74’ Gilbert Agius (V); 82’ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (S)
Photos: Copyright © www.stephengatt.com
In the first match, Birkirkara made sure of retaining the top spot in the BOV Premier League as they registered a fifth successive win, beating Hibernians 2-1.
The Stripes were clearly a better side throughout the ninety minutes but after taking the lead early in the first half, they only doubled the score late in the game with the Paolites reducing the gap a few minutes later.
Branko Nisevic and Paul Fenech returned for Birkirkara after missing the last game against Qormi but Carlo Mamo was ruled out through suspension. Hibernians, on the other hand, could not field their best formation due to the absence of a number of players including Adrian Pulis, Andrew Cohen, Miguel Lopes De Pina and Christian Callejas. However they had Ndubisi Chukunyere making his first appearance since rejoining the club while Jean Paul Farrugia returned following a long-term injury.
Birkirkara had the first attempt at goal on 7 minutes when off a Trevor Cilia cross, Michael Galea hit high from an angled position. Five mintues later, Joseph Zerafa served Galea from the left but his conclusion was blocked by a defender.
The Stripes managed to take the lead on 18 minutes when off a cross from the right by Trevor Cilia, Sylvano Comvalius hit low past goalkeeper Mario Muscat.
Rowen Muscat went close with a long-distance shot which was neutralised by the Hibs custodian on 23 minutes. On the other side of the pitch, on 34 minutes, following a cross from the right by Triston Caruana, Ben Camilleri deflected the ball slightly for Elton Morelato who however failed to connect.
After the break the Stripes continued to hold the initiative but were hardly dangerous. However on 74 minutes, Jonathan Caruana was unlucky to hit the upright for Hibernians with a fine shot from outside the area.
Seven minutes from time, Birkirkara doubled the score when off an Alan Tabone corner from the left, Michael Galea headed home to double the score.
However the game was not over yet as Jonathan Caruana pulled one back for the Paolites with a low shot from the left when served by Etienne Barbara on 86 minutes.
Trevor Cilia was voted BOV Player of the Match.
B’KARA Jorge Mora, Paul Fenech, Nikola Vukanac, Branko Nisevic, Angus Buhagiar (75’ Karl Pulo), Rowen Muscat, Joseph Zerafa, Shaun Bajada (82’ Alan Tabone), Trevor Cilia, Michael Galea, Sylvano Comvalius (92’ George Mallia).
Subs not used: Omar Borg, Thomas Paris, Andrew Scicluna, Diansand Brincat.
Coach: Paul Zammit Team Manager: Mario Gatt
HIBS Mario Muscat, Jonathan Caruana, Edward Herrera, Aaron Xuereb, Jonathan Pearson, Ryan Camilleri (30’ Matthew Tabone), Elton Crepaldi Morelato, Triston Caruana (83′ Jean Paul Farrugia), Etienne Barbara, Ben Camilleri, Ndubisi Chukunyere (58’ Chris Camilleri).
Subs not used: Daniel Balzan, Rene Duca, Matthew Hammett.
Coach: Mark Miller Asst. Coach: Edmond Lufi
Referee: Adrian Azzopardi
Assistant Referees: Philip Agius, William Debattista
Fourth Official: Glenn Tonna
Yellow Cards: S. Comvalius, B. Nisevic, J. Caruana, JP Farrugia
Scorers: 18’ Sylvano Comvalius (B); 83’ Michael Galea (B); 86’ Jonathan Caruana (H)