Leaders Valletta continued to disappoint as they were held in a third consecutive 1-1 draw, this time by Sliema Wanderers.
The Citizens, who won just one of the last five matches, now lie five points ahead of Sliema and Birkirkara but the Stripes have a game in hand.
Valletta lacked Steve Borg, Dyson Falzon and Michael Mifsud while Beppe Muscat and Stefano Bianciardi were missing for Sliema although they welcomed back Paltemio Barbetti.
The Citizens were determined to take home the three points and forged ahead after just two minutes when William Barbosa headed the ball home off an inviting cross by Shaun Bajada from the left.
Denni was unlucky not to double the score on 25 minutes as his fierce shot from the right hit the crossbar with Bonello beaten.
William Barbosa then had a shot from outside the area ending just wide one minute from half-time.
However just before the break, Sliema levelled matters when Branislav Timotic headed the ball home past goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo off a Matias Muchardi corner from the right.
The Citizens went close with a header by Denni when served by Ryan Fenech on 69 minutes. On the other side of the pitch, off an inviting cross by Miguel Ciantar, Manuel Bartolo managed to anticipate before John Mintoff could connect.
In stoppage time, Ricardo Filho could have notched the winner for Valletta but the Brazilian defender’s header, off a cross by Bajada from the left, was parried by Henry Bonello. Then it was the turn of Mark Scerri to have a good header neutralised by Manuel Bartolo.
Luigi Ruggiero was voted BOV Player of the Match.
VALLETTA Manuel Bartolo, Ricardo Barreto da Rocha Filho, William Barbosa, Ryan Fenech, Joao Gabriel da Silva (62’ Leandro da Silva Almeida), Denni Rocha dos Santos, Shaun Bajada, Roderick Briffa, Jonathan Caruana, Edmond Agius (76’ Kurt Magro), Ian Azzopardi.
Subs not used: Yenz Cini, Ian Zammit, Gilbert Agius, Isaac Zammit, Miguel Attard.
Coach: Mark Miller
Asst. Coach: Keith Fenech
SLIEMA Henry Bonello, Alex Muscat, Luca Martinelli (46’ Andrew Decesare), Branislav Timotic, Paltemio Barbetti, John Mintoff, Mark Scerri, Luigi Ruggiero, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Ivan Woods (42’ Miguel Ciantar), Matias Muchardi.
Subs not used: Glenn Zammit, Omar El Ghaouti, Ariel Laudisi, Alain Faccini, Josef Mifsud.
Coach: Alfonso Greco
Asst. Coach: JoJo Bajada
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri
Assistant Referees: Chris Francalanza, Thomas Debono
Fourth Official: Glenn Tonna
Yellow Cards: Ruggiero, Ciantar, Ricardo Filho, Agius, Mintoff, Timotic, Decesare, Fenech
Scorers: 2’ William Barbosa (V); 45’ Branislav Timotic (S)
Balzan moved seventh as they maintained their positive run with a 2-0 win over Rabat Ajax. They are now two points behind Tarxien Rainbows and two ahead of Hamrun Spartans.
On the other hand, Rabat are still anchored at the bottom of the table with three points and are still seeking their first win.
The two coaches could not field their best formation. Rabat were once again a depleted side as they lacked Heiner Backhaus, Chris Schembri, Wayne Borg, Adam Smeir, Nerijus Astrauskas and Ryan Micallef. Matthew Camilleri, Bjorn Bondin, Jonathan Francica, Rennie Forace and Dylan Grima were, on the other hand, missing for Balzan.
The Magpies had the first attempt at goal with Manuel Moral Fuster going close with a long-distance shot on the 11th. Three minutes later, the Spanish midfielder, served by Justin Felice, went close once again for Rabat. Balzan replied with a Pedro Calcado effort which was neutralised by Rabat goalkeeper Jonathan Azzopardi on the half hour. Two minutes later, Elton da Silva tested Azzopardi with an angled shot from the left.
Balzan took the lead just before half-time when off a Pedro Calcado freekick, Jamie Pace flicked the ball home from close range.
Fredrick Tabone managed to turn into a corner a David Azzopardi effort nine minutes in the second half and from the resulting corner by Manuel Moral Fuster, Justin Felice’s header hit the upright. In a counter-attack for Balzan, a powerful drive by Elton da Silva was neutralised by Jonathan Azzopardi.
Rabat kept pressing for the equaliser and went close with Moral Fuster headed just wide off a cross by David Azzopardi from the left on 67 minutes.
However Balzan sealed the issue three minutes from time when off a cross by Pedro dos Santos Calcado, Elton Alexandre da Silva slotted the ball past goalkeeper Jonathan Azzopardi.
Pedro Calcado was voted BOV Player of the Match.
RABAT Jonathan Azzopardi, Gaetano Gesualdi, Ivan Carapic, Joseph Caruana, Justin Felice, Manuel Moral Fuster, Dylan Falzon, Clive Brincat, Yan Cauchi, David Azzopardi, Clifford Gauci (71’ Chris Vella).
Subs not used: Sean Mintoff, Neil Farrugia, Luke Cauchi, Patrick Borg, Kurt Muscat, Shaun Gauci.
Coach: Silvio Vella
Asst. Coach: Joseph Galea
BALZAN Fredrick Tabone, Malcolm Licari (54’ Jacob Dominico Borg), Yessous Camilleri, Stefan Giglio, Renato Conceicao, Matthew Mendy, Jamie Pace, Martin Deyanov, Christian Caruana (57′ Aaron Agius), Pedro dos Santos, Elton Alexandre da Silva (90’ Michael Borg).
Subs not used: Mikhail Sciberras, Kevin Camilleri, Gianfranco Micallef.
Coach: Joe Borg
Team Manager: Ivan Zammit
Referee: Clayton Pisani
Assistant Referees: Ingmar Spiteri, Roberto Vella
Fourth Official: Mario Apap
Yellow Cards: M. Deyanov, J. Caruana, A. Agius
Scorers: 45’ Jamie Pace, 87’ Elton Alexandre da Silva