Champions Valletta moved on top the BOV Premier League table thanks to a 3-0 win over eternal rivals Floriana in the derby.
However with the points obtained being halved for the second phase, the Citizens and Hibernians will both start on the 23-point mark, one ahead of Birkirkara.
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Valletta lacked goalkeeper Yenz Cini, Steve Borg and Daniel Bogdanovic but Roderick Briffa and Denni Rocha dos Santos were back. New Floriana coach, Iain Brunskill, on the other hand, could not count on Brazilian striker Rodrigo Branco, Joseph Borg and Brooke Farrugia but they welcomed back Kane Farrugia and Carl Tremarco.
The Citizens had the first attempt at goal on the 5th minute with a diagonal shot by Michael Mifsud. A minute later, Mifsud served Ryan Fenech whose curved shot was somehow neutralised by Tony Warner. Floriana replied with a shot from the edge of the area by Udo Nwoko ending just over the bar on the 31st minute.
Valletta managed to break the deadlock just before half-time when off an inviting cross by Jason Vandelannoite from the right, Demba Toure was at the right place at the right time to head home past goalkeeper Tony Warner.
Udo Nwoko went close for Floriana with a shot from inside the area which was deflected into a corner by a defender on the 62nd minute.
However the Citizens doubled the score seven minutes later thanks to a direct freekick by Ryan Fenech.
Substitute Thomas Paris came to the rescue for Floriana, clearing off the goal line a cross from the right by Ryan Fenech on the 77th. Four minutes later, an Abubakar Bello-Osagie effort from close-range was parried by Warner.
The Citizens made it 3-0 on 82 minutes when off a corner by Michael Mifsud, goalkeeper Tony Warner could only deflect the ball slightly and Jonathan Caruana headed the ball home.
Ryan Fenech was voted BOV Player of the Match.
VALLETTA Manuel Bartolo, Jason Lee Vandelannoite (65’ Joao Gabriel da Silva), Luke Dimech, Jonathan Caruana, Ian Azzopardi, William Barbosa, Ryan Fenech (83’ Edmond Agius), Roderick Briffa, Michael Mifsud, Demba Toure, Denni Rocha dos Santos (66’ Abubakar Bello-Osagie).
Subs not used: Ryan Caruana, Joseph Jo Jo Ogunuppe, Dyson Falzon, Llywelyn Cremona.
Coach: Mark Miller
Asst. Coach: Gilbert Agius
FLORIANA Tony Warner, Sacha Borg, Carl Tremarco, Owen Bugeja, Kane Farrugia, Gary Roberts, Clyde Borg, Trevor Cilia (74’ Mark Spiteri), Steve Pisani, Igor Coronado (46’ Thomas Paris), Udo Nwoko.
Subs not used: Jurgen Debono, Isaac Galea, Luca Casha, Francesco Guzman, Luke Scorfna.
Coach: Iain Brunskill
Asst. Coach: Gary Howard
Referee: Clayton Pisani
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, William Debattista
Fourth Official: Kevin Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: Tremarco, Roberts, Vandelannoite, Toure, S. Borg, Pisani
Scorers: 45’ Demba Toure, 69’ Ryan Fenech, 82’ Jonathan Caruana
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Meanwhile Birkirkara made sure of starting the Championship Pool just one point behind the leaders as they registered a comfortable 3-0 win over Hamrun Spartans.
For the Spartans, this was the twelfth defeat in thirteen matches, meaning that they will start their Relegation Pool commitments, just one point ahead of Melita and two ahead of Rabat Ajax.
Birkirkara coach Paul Zammit could not count on Joseph Zerafa, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech. David Camilleri, on the other hand, was missing for Hamrun.
The Stripes made their intentions clear right from the start and went close to taking the lead with a Jhonnattann effort which was turned into a corner by Andrea Cassar.
However they managed to take the lead on the 10th minute thanks to Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza from close range after that a shot was partially saved by the Hamrun goalkeeper.
Birkirkara continued to hold the initiative and doubled the score two minutes from the end of the first half with a rising shot from the right by Edward Herrera who took advantage of an erratic pass by a Hamrun defender.
Nine minutes in the second half, Ryan Camenzuli had a powerful shot turned into a corner when served by Jhonnattann. A minute later, Andrea Cassar turned into another corner a Shola Shodiya effort.
A shot from outside the area by Camenzuli was tipped into a corner by the Hamrun custodian on 72 minutes. Ryan Scicluna then hit the crossbar with a shot from the edge of the area a minute later.
Birkirkara increased the lead on 78 minutes with a powerful low drive from outside the area by Ryan Camenzuli which gave Andrea Cassar no chance.
Ryan Camenzuli was voted BOV Player of the Match.
HAMRUN Andrea Cassar, Roderick Fenech, Emiliano Lattes, Adrian Borg, Daniel Zerafa (78’ Luke Grech), Loic Lumbilla Kandja, Terence Vella (86’ Ryan Spiteri), Bledjon Guga, Giacomo Favero, Massimo Grima, Glenn Azzopardi.
Subs not used: Anthony Curmi, Melvin Busuttil, Ayrton Micallef, Gianluca Debattista, Cesar Catalan Clemente.
Coach: Stefan Sultana
Asst. Coach: Jeffrey Mifsud
B’KARA Justin Haber, Ryan Scicluna, Zach Muscat, Nikola Vukanac, Ryan Camenzuli (90’ Roderick Taliana), Gareth Sciberras, Harun Shola Shodiya, Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao (68’ Joselito dos Reis), Edward Herrera, Alejandro Mendoza Corujo, Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (84’ Kurt Zammit).
Subs not used: Reuben Gauci, Rodrigo Pereira, David Spiteri, Yosimar Hernandez.
Coach: Paul Zammit
Asst. Coach: Peter Pullicino
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri
Assistant Referees: Paul Apap, Luke Portelli
Fourth Official: Alan Mario Sant
Yellow Cards: Scicluna
Scorers: 10′ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza, 42′ Edward Herrera, 78′ Ryan Camenzuli