Sliema Wanderers joined Birkirkara in third place as they registered a narrow win over the Stripes at the Hibernians Stadium.
Birkirkara therefore failed to keep the pace with Valletta and Hibernians and are now four points behind the leaders.
Photo: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
Reuben Gauci returned in goal for the Stripes as he replaced the suspended Justin Haber. Ryan Scicluna was also missing. The Wanderers lacked John Mintoff and Henry Bonello.
Birkirkara held the initiative in the early stages, going close with a Gareth Sciberras header which was parried by Glenn Zammit. A Jhonnattann freekick ended just wide. On the other side of the pitch, Alex Muscat had a long-distance shot parried by Reuben Gauci. Paul Fenech then went close with a shot from outside the area.
Sliema however managed to break the deadlock just before half-time when Ivan Woods latched on a clearance by goalkeeper Glenn Zammit, rounded Reuben Gauci and placed the ball at the back of the net.
The Stripes pushed for the equaliser after the break but their chances received a major setback as Harun Shola Shodiya was sent off by referee Adrian Azzopardi.
The Wanderers in fact could have doubled the score in the final stages with attempts by Luigi Ruggiero, Shaun Bajada and Matias Muchardi.
Matias Muchardi was voted BOV Player of the Match.
SLIEMA Glenn Zammit, Alex Muscat, Luca Martinelli, Stanley Ohawuchi (75′ Luigi Ruggiero) Paltemio Barbetti, Mark Scerri, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Ivan Woods (87′ Josef Mifsud), Shaun Bajada, Matias Muchardi, Stefano Bianciardi.
Subs not used: James Abela, Ian Zammit, Andrew Decesare, Alain Faccini, Beppe Muscat.
Coach: Alfonso Greco
Asst. Coach: Jojo Bajada
B’KARA Reuben Gauci, Edward Herrera (85′ Joselito dos Reis), Zach Muscat (46′ Rowen Muscat), Joseph Zerafa, Ryan Camenzuli (46′ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza), Nikola Vukanac, Gareth Sciberras, Alejandro Mendoza, Paul Fenech, Harun Shola Shodiya, Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao.
Subs not used: Ini Etim Akpan, Rodrigo Pereira, Godwin Mckay, Yosimar Hernandez.
Coach: Paul Zammit
Asst. Coach: Peter Pullicino
Referee: Adrian Azzopardi
Assistant Referees: William Debattista, Roberto Vella
Fourth Official: Paul Caruana
Yellow Cards: Barbetti, Mendoza, Shodiya, Scerri, Bianciardi, Woods, Zammit, Joselito
Red Cards: 78′ Shola Shodiya
Scorers: 45′ Ivan Woods
Photo: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
Meanwhile in a game from the Relegation Pool, Balzan defeated Hamrun Spartans 3-1. The thirteenth defeat in fourteen matches for Stefan Sultana’s side.
Balzan, on the other hand, now lead the way in the Relegation Pool on 17 points.
Apart from Pedrinho and Elton who returned to Brazil, Balzan lacked Yessous Camilleri, Renato Conceicao and Jonathan Francica. Massimo Grima and Daniel Zerafa were missing for Hamrun.
Balzan could not have a better start as they took the lead after just a few seconds with the ball reaching Elie Moises Akui N’Dekre who slotted the ball past Andrea Cassar.
The Spartans’ reaction was immediate and they levelled matters on the 8th minute when Loic Lumbilla gained possession following an erratic back-pass and served Emiliano Lattes who placed the ball at the back of the net.
Balzan regained the lead on the 45th minute thanks to Christian Caruana when served by Matthew Mendy.
To make matters worse for Hamrun, Roderick Fenech was sent off on the 72nd minutes after passing remarks in the direction of the referee.
Balzan took full advantage as they increased the lead through another goal by Elie Moises Akui N’Dekre, served by N’Dekre, on 79 minutes, hitting low past the Hamrun custodian.
Christian Caruana was voted BOV Player of the Match.
BALZAN Daniel Miguelez Martinez, Jacob Borg, Aaron Agius, Stefan Giglio, Matthew Mendy, Bjorn Bondin, Dylan Grima, Firas Aboulezz, Christian Caruana (88′ Juan Corbalan), Ryan Darmanin, Elie Moises Akui N’Dekre.
Subs not used: Fredrick Tabone, Jamie Pace, Rennie Forace, Kevin Camilleri, Shaun Bugeja, Daniel Spiteri.
Coach: Joe Borg
Asst. Coach: Silvan Ciscaldi
HAMRUN Andrea Cassar, Adrian Borg (63′ Luke Grech), Roderick Fenech, Bledjon Guga, David Camilleri, Ryan Spiteri, Giacomo Favero, Loic Lumbilla, Terence Vella (83′ Rodney Refalo), Emiliano Lattes.
Subs not used: Subs not used: Anthony Curmi, Ryan Bonello, Cesar Catalan, Gianluca Debattista, Dylan Busuttil.
Coach: Stefan Sultana
Asst. Coach: Jeffrey Mifsud
Referee: Alan Mario Sant
Assistant Referees: Luke Portelli, Albert Borg Cardona
Fourth Official: Andre Arciola
Yellow Cards: Favero, Bondin
Red Cards: 72′ Roderick Fenech
Scorers: 1′ Elie Moises Akui N’Dekre, 8′ Emiliano Lattes, 45′ Christian Caruana, 79′ Elie Moises Akui N’Dekre