Champions Valletta once again failed to collect the three points as they earned a point in a 1-1 draw with Birkirkara at the National Stadium on Friday.
The Citizens have now gone four matches without a win following two draws and two defeats. The Stripes, on the other hand, have now won just one of the last four matches but still lie two points ahead of Valletta. They share second place with Hibernians, six points behind leaders Balzan.
Paul Zammit could not count on the suspended Leandro Aguirre and Uchenna Umeh and the injured Roderick Briffa. New signing Valdo Goncalves Alhinho and the returning Claudio Pani were named in the starting line-up, replacing Santiago Malano and Uchenna Umeh from the team which lost to Hibernians. Birkirkara had five changes from the team which lost to Pembroke as Steve Bonnici, Edward Herrera, Shaun Bajada, Ryan Scicluna and Dejan Djordjevic made way for Cain Attard, Gareth Sciberras, Rowen Muscat, Joseph Zerafa and Predrag Jovic.
Following a goalless first half, Birkirkara managed to break the deadlock on the 49th minute thanks to Cain Attard whose low shot beat goalkeeper Henry Bonello following a corner from the right.
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The Citizens equalised on the 66th minute thanks to a great freekick from the left by Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao.
Two minutes later, Birkirkara were reduced to ten men after Predrag Jovic received a second yellow card for a foul in midfield.
Jhonnattann almost put Valletta ahead on the 79th but his conclusion from the left hit the crossbar. The Brazilian striker had another two attempts at goal both blocked by the Birkirkara custodian.
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VALLETTA Henry Bonello, Jonanthan Caruana, Ian Azzopardi (85′ Ryan Camilleri), Steve Borg, Juan Cruz Gill, Jean Borg (70′ Llywelyn Cremona), Federico Falcone, Claudio Pani, Valdo Goncalves Alhinho, Jhonattann Benites da Conceicao, Romeu Pericles Romao (60′ Michael Mifsud).
Subs not used: Dziugas Bartkus, Russell Fenech, Jurgen Suda, Nicholas Pulis.
Coach: Paul Zammit
B’KARA Miroslav Kopric, Gareth Sciberras, Mislav Andelkovic, Srdjan Dimitrov (77′ Matthew Guillaumier), Vito Plut (85′ Steve Bonnici), Nikola Vukanac, Frank Temile (69′ Shaun Bajada), Joseph Zerafa, Cain Attard, Predrag Jovic, Rowen Muscat.
Subs not used: Ini Etim Akpan, Edward Herrera, Ryan Scicluna, James Brincat.
Coach: Drazen Besek
Referee: Alan Mario Sant
Roberto Vella, William Debattista
Fourth Official: Philip Farrugia
Yellow Cards: Pani, Jovic, Vukanac, Azzopardi, Cremona
Scorers: 49′ Cain Attard, 66′ Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao
BOV Player of the Match: Mislav Andelkovic
Attendance at the National Stadium: 1,794
Meanwhile at the Hibernians Stadium, Hibernians were held in a 1-1 draw by Gzira United. A game which put Gzira United coach Branko Nisevic against his former team.
A precious point for Gzira who now move on the nine-point mark, leaving Hibernians in second place on level points with Birkirkara.
Hibs had one change from the team which defeated Valletta as Jorginho was named in the starting line-up with Clayton Failla starting on the bench. The Maroons, on the other hand, had four changes with Brazilians Joceano da Silva Santos, Antonio de Queiroz Machedo Neto, Robert de Pinho de Sousa and Ellinton Antonio Costa Morais replacing Andre White, Karl Pulo, Juan Carlos Corbalan and Yanis Tonna.
Gzira forged ahead on the 29th minute when Moises Avila Perez sent Ellinton Antonio Costa Morais through and the latter hit hard past goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.
Hibernians equalised five minutes in the second half when Jackson Lima served Jorginho who passed the ball to Jurgen Degabriele and the young Hibs striker beat Jurgen Borg with a shot half-height.
HIBS Andrew Hogg, Rodolfo Suarez, Marcelo Dias, Jackson de Lima Siquero, Bjorn Kristensen, Jorge da Silva Pereira (76’ Juan Manuel Varea), Renan Pimenta Telles (46’ Andrew Cohen), Johann Bezzina, Joseph Mbong, Jurgen Degabriele, Andrei Agius.
Subs not used: Rudy Briffa, Dunstan Vella, Jonathan Pearson, Clayton Failla, Conner Zammit.
Coach: Mark Miller
GZIRA Jurgen Borg, Joceano da Silva Santos (62’ Juan Carlos Corbolan), Gianmarco Conti, Antonio de Queiroz Machedo Neto, Robert de Pinho de Sousa (78’ Yanis Tonna), Jonathan Bondin, Moises Avila Perez, Jacob Borg, Zachary Scerri (90’ Andre White), Souleymane Diamoutene, Ellinton Antonio Costa Morais.
Subs not used: Kyle Gerada, Jamie Azzopardi, Karl Pulo, Dyson Falzon.
Coach: Branko Nisevic
Referee: Clayton Pisani
Assistant referees: Alan Camilleri, Edward Spiteri
Fourth Official: Malcolm Spiteri
Yellow Cards: Diamoutene, Dias, Kristensen
Scorers: 29′ Ellinton Antonio Costa Morais, 50′ Jurgen Degabriele
BOV Player of the Match: Bjorn Kristensen
Attendance at the Hibs Stadium: 697
Renato Vella reporting from the Hibernians Stadium