Valletta’s dream of securing a place in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League received a major setback as they lost 2-3 to FK Ekranas in the first leg of the second qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Tuesday.
At the Aukštaitija Stadium in Panevezys, Valletta have to win by at least a two-goal difference in order to make it to the next stage.
It was a well-deserved win for Ekranas who were clearly a better side, especially during the first half, with Uchenna Umeh being a constant threat on the right flank, going into half-time with a comfortable 3-1 lead. After the break, the locals showed greater determination but this was not enough for them to leave the Hibs Stadium with at least a draw.
The Citizens had no less than six changes from the team which defeated Tre Fiori last week as Kenneth Scicluna, Dyson Falzon, Ian Zammit, Ousseni Zongo, Alfred Effiong and the injured Denni made way for Roderick Briffa, Jonathan Caruana, Ian Azzopardi, Ryan Fenech, William da Silva and debutante Michael Mifsud. Ramon Dos Santos and Terence Scerri were once again missing for Valletta.
The visitors held the initiative in the opening minutes with the Citizens’ first attempt at goal occurring on the 10th minute with Michael Mifsud testing goalkeeper Zubas with a shot from the edge of the area. Two minutes later, the same Valletta striker just failed to connect off an inviting pass by Roderick Briffa from the right.
Ekranas managed to take the lead on 15 minutes when Nigerian striker Uchenna Umeh received a perfect pass inside the area, rounded Hogg and placed the ball in the empty net.
On the 20th, Ram?nas Radavi?ius tested Hogg with a powerful shot from the left which was turned into a corner by Hogg. From the resulting corner by the same Radavi?ius, there was an erratic deflection by Pace and captain Dainius Gleveckas slotted the ball past the Valletta custodian to double the score.
City captain Gilbert Agius missed a god opportunity to reduce the gap on 31 minutes when off a freekick from the right, he lobbed the ball over the Lithuanian goalkeeper but the ball ended over the bar.
Five minutes from the end of the first half, Jonathan Caruana brought Uchenna Umeh down inside the area. Referee Pavle Radovanovic ordered a penalty and from the penalty spot, Ram?nas Radavi?ius made it 3-0.
One minute later, Valletta pulled one back with a beautiful shot from the right by Michael Mifsud which gave the Lithuanian goalkeeper no chance.
Mifsud missed a good opportunity to score a second goal on 66 minutes when in a counter-attack for Valletta, he received the ball on the right but his weak conclusion was saved without particular difficulty by Zubas who had rushed to the edge of the area.
Four minutes from time, Michael Mifsud was unlucky to hit the upright with a rising shot from the right and a minute later another powerful drive by the Malta international striker was neutralised by the Lithuanian custodian.
On the 90th, Valletta were awarded a penalty after Andrius Joksas handled the ball inside the area. From the penalty spot, William Barbosa da Silva converted for the Citizens’ second goal.
Four minutes in added time, Valletta could have notched the equaliser but Michael Mifsud’s goal-bound shot was cleared off the goal line by a defender.
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VALLETTA Andrew Hogg, Edmond Agius, Steve Borg, Gilbert Agius, Jamie Pace (46’ Alfred Effiong), Roderick Briffa, Jonathan Caruana, William Barbosa da Silva, Ryan Fenech (79’ Kevin Sammut), Ian Azzopardi, Michael Mifsud.
Subs not used: Yenz Cini, Kenneth Scicluna, Ian Zammit, Ousseni Zongo, Kevin Sammut, Dyson Falzon.
Coach: Leonard Farrugia
Assistant Coach: Jesmond Zerafa
EKRANAS Emilijus Zubas, Dainius Gleveckas, Ram?nas Radavi?ius (82’ Marius Skinderis), Aurimas Ku?ys, Andrius Jokšas, Ignas Dedura, Mauro Alonso (79’ Andrius Veli?ka), Marko Andjelkovi?, Uchenna Calistus Umeh (65’ Tadas Markevi?ius), Aurimas Vertelis, Dušan Matovi?.
Subs not used: Tadas Kauneckas, Jevgenij Moroz, Arnas Ribokas, Rytis Pilotas.
Coach: Valdas Urbonas
Referee: Pavle Radovanovi? (MNE)
Assistant referees: Veselin Radunovi?, Dejan Pajovi? (MNE)
Fourth official: Mileta Š?epanovi? (MNE)
Yellow Cards: Dedura, Gleveckas, Caruana, Briffa, E. Agius, Joksas, Matovic
Scorers: 15’ Uchenna Umeh, 21’ Dainius Gleveckas, 41’ Ram?nas Radavi?ius (pen); 42’ Michael Mifsud; 90+1′ William da Silva (pen)