Hibernians scored twice in the first half as they beat Balzan 2-0 to keep the pace with leaders Valletta.
A result which almost rules out any chances of Balzan securing a top-six finish.
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Balzan lacked Aaron Agius, Yessous Camilleri, Jonathan Francica and Pedro dos Santos Calcado apart from Matthew Camilleri but Firas Aboulezz was making his league debut. Missing for Hibernians was Allan Kardeck dos Santos after he was released by the club.
Jean Paul Farrugia had the first attempt at goal on the 3rd minute, hitting high when served by Rodolfo Soares on the right. Clayton Failla was unlucky to hit the crossbar with a cross shot from the left on the 9th minute.
Hibernians continued to hold the initiative and a shot from outside the area by Jackson Lima ended high on the 23rd.
The Paolites finally managed to take the lead on the half hour when off a Clayton Failla freekick, Stefan Giglio deflected the ball past goalkeeper Dani Martinez for an own goal.
Two minutes later, Balzan were reduced to ten men as Matthew Mendy picked a second yellow card for a foul on Cohen.
Hibs doubled the score two minutes from half-time when Jean Paul Farrugia received a through pass and managed to anticipate Dani Martinez, placing the ball inside the empty net.
After the break, goal-mouth action was rare with the Paolites controlling their opponents without particular difficulty and goalkeepers Mario Muscat and Dani Martinez were hardly tested.
Andrew Cohen was voted BOV Player of the Match.
HIBS Mario Muscat, Adrian Pulis (63’ Ayrton Azzopardi), Ryan Camilleri, Rodolfo Soares, Andrew Cohen, Clayton Failla, Zoran Levnajic, Jackson di Lima Siqueira (81’ Johann Bezzina), Bjorn Kristensen, Marcelo Dias, Jean Paul Farrugia (75’ Steve Pisani).
Subs not used: Daniel Balzan, Scott Chircop, Brandon Muscat, Karl Conti.
Coach: Michael Woods
Asst. Coach: Darren Abdilla
BALZAN Daniel Miguelez Martinez, Jacob Borg, Matthew Mendy, Stefan Giglio, Renato Garcia Conceicao (46’ Bjorn Bondin), Rennie Forace (32’ Clint Micallef), Jamie Pace, Dylan Grima, Christian Caruana (74’ Rodrigo de Barros Consani), Firas Aboulezz, Ryan Darmanin.
Subs not used: Fredrick Tabone, Juan Corbalan, Gianfranco Micallef, Elton Alexandre da Silva.
Coach: Joe Borg
Team Manager: Ivan Zammit
Referee: Trustin Farrugia Cann
Assistant Referees: Ingmar Spiteri, Thomas Debono
Fourth Official: Adrian Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: Mendy, Dias, Lima
Scorers: 30’ own goal Stefan Giglio, 43’ Jean Paul Farrugia
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Sliema Wanderers and Birkirkara earned a point each as they shared the spoils in a goalless draw.
A draw which leaves the Stripes five points behind Valletta and four behind Hibernians with the Blues joining Tarxien and Mosta in fourth place. However the latter two have a game in hand.
Both players had a new player in their starting line-up: goalkeeper Justin Haber for Birkirkara and Ian Zammit for Sliema. The Wanderers also lacked Henry Bonello, Beppe Muscat and Luigi Ruggiero while Nikola Vukanac and Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao were missing for Birkirkara.
After a quiet start, Birkirkara went close to taking the lead on 33 minutes with a beautiful header by Harun Shola Shodiya off a cross from the left by Joseph Zerafa.
Shola Shodiya missed a good opportunity four minutes in the second half hitting high after an inviting pass by Herrera. A freekick by Yosimar Hernandez from the left was turned into a corner by Glenn Zammit on 72 minutes. Two minutes later, Edward Herrera hit just over the bar after receiving a cross from the right.
Eight minutes from time, Herrera went close with a shot from outside the area which was partially saved by Zammit with the ball ending into a corner. Shola Shodiya missed another fine opportunity, when served on the right by Fenech, but Glenn Zammit blocked his attempt with his foot.
Paul Fenech was voted BOV Player of the Match.
SLIEMA Glenn Zammit, Alex Muscat, Luca Martinelli (75’ John Mintoff), Paltemio Barbetti, Mark Scerri, Ian Zammit, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Ivan Woods (89’ Alain Faccini), Shaun Bajada, Matias Muchardi, Stefano Bianciardi.
Subs not used: James Abela, Andrew Decesare, Ariel Laudisi, Josef Mifsud, Miguel Ciantar, James Abela.
Coach: Alfonso Greco
Asst. Coach: JoJo Bajada
B’KARA Justin Haber, Edward Herrera, Rodrigo Pereira, Joseph Zerafa, Ryan Camenzuli (60’ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza), Harun Shola Shodiya (89’ Joselito dos Reis), Paul Fenech, Gareth Sciberras, Zach Muscat, Rowen Muscat (69’ Yosimar Hernandez), Alejandro Mendoza Corujo.
Subs not used: Reuben Gauci, McAllister Clinch, Fabian Zammit, Ryan Scicluna.
Coach: Paul Zammit
Asst. Coach: Peter Pullicino
Referee: Fyodor Zammit
Assistant Referees: Edward Spiteri, Luke Portelli
Fourth Official: Mario Apap
Yellow Cards: Fenech, Bianciardi, Scerri, Barbetti, Shodiya