Valletta brought to an end Birkirkara’s impressive run of thirteen consecutive wins as goals by Ryan Fenech and Hamza Barry enabled them to register a 2-1 win in front of a record crowd for this season.
The Citizens therefore move to just three points behind Birkirkara with just one match for the end of the first phase. If both sides win their last match next week against Balzan and Vittoriosa respectively, only one point would separate the two teams in the beginning of the Championship Pool.
With Andre Paus leading the team from the bench and Mark Miller as his assistant, Valletta had Georgian goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili, Nigerian-Georgian striker Abayomi Seon Owonikoko together with substitute Brazilian striker Alan da Silva Souza making their debut while another new face on the bench was former Birkirkara and Livorno striker Luke Montebello. Luke Dimech, Lateef Elford-Alliyu and Denni Rocha dos Santos were ruled out injured.
Birkirkara, on the other hand, lacked Edward Herrera and the suspended Joseph Zerafa while new signing Ronaille Calheira Seara was not part of the squad.
The Stripes missed an excellent opportunity to take the lead on the 10th minute when off a cross by Jhonnattann from the right, Shola Shodiya controlled the ball but concluded wide from an ideal position.
Three minutes later, Birkirkara took the lead thanks to a powerful shot by Ryan Fenech from outside the area which gave goalkeeper Justin Haber no chance.
Jonathan Caruana headed high off a freekick from the right on the half-hour.
Two minutes in the second half, Jhonnattann headed wide off a cross by Shola Shodiya from the left. Shola Shodiya then had a shot from the right blocked by Revishvili.
Birkirkara were awarded a penalty on the 53rd minute after Jonathan Caruana pulled Alejandro Mendoza inside the area. From the penalty spot, Haruna Shola Shodiya converted.
Valletta however regained the lead on 63 minutes thanks to a rising shot by Hamza Barry which gave Justin Haber no chance after that an Edmond Agius freekick was blocked by a defender.
Photos: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
B’KARA Justin Haber, Zach Muscat, Alejandro Mendoza Corujo, Nikola Vukanac, Ryan Camenzuli, Gareth Sciberras (81′ Daniel Zerafa), Ryan Scicluna (70′ Frank Temile), Rowen Muscat, Haruna Shola Shodiya, Paul Fenech (93′ Terence Vella), Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao.
Subs not used: Reuben Gauci, Antoine Borg, Matheus Bissi da Silva, Kurt Zammit.
Coach: Paul Zammit
VALLETTA Nukri Revishvili, Jonathan Caruana, Steve Borg, Ryan Fenech, Edmond Agius, Roderick Briffa, Abayomi Seun Ownikoko (92′ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza), Hamza Barry, Shaun Bajada, Jason Lee Vandelannoite (80′ Alan da Silva Souza), Abdelkarim Nafti (67′ Ian Azzopardi).
Subs not used: Yenz Cini, Luke Montebello, Ian Montanaro, Llywelyn Cremona.
Coach: Andre Paus
Referee: Fyodor Zammit
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, Duncan Sultana
Additional Assistant Referees: Chris Lautier, Trustin Farrugia Cann
Fourth Official: Adrian Azzopardi
Yellow Cards: Caruana, Bajada
Scorers: 13′ Ryan Fenech; 54′ Haruna Shola Shodiya pen; 63′ Hamza Barry
BOV Player of the Match: Ryan Fenech