A goal mid-way in the first half was enough for Valletta to see off Naxxar Lions at the Victor Tedesco Stadium on Saturday. A narrow win which keeps the Citizens one point behind leaders Balzan.
For Valletta, this was the fourth win in five matches while for Naxxar, this was the second defeat in four matches.
The Citizens welcomed back Steve Borg and had Argentine striker Miguel Angel Alba making his debut but Joseph Zerafa was suspended. Naxxar had Matheus Verissimo Casarotto making his debut. Angus Buhagiar was suspended but Oussenyou Ndoye was back after serving a one-match ban.
Valletta scored the all-important goal on the 23rd minute when off an assist by Enmy Pena Beltre from the right, Santiago Malano slotted the ball past goalkeeper Christoph Nicht.
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Photos: Copyright © Andrew Grima
NAXXAR Christoph Nicht, Rafael Santos Henriques Caetano, Mailson Souza Duarte Junior, Jean Diego Moser, Ryan Grech, Manolito Micallef, Duane Bonnici, Ryan Gilmour Cassar (65′ Daren Falzon), Matheus Verissimo Casarotto, Oussenyou Elhadji Ndoye (84′ Mark Fenech), Yuri de Jesus Messias.
Subs not used: Omar Borg, Tristan Nappa Licari, Luke Bezzina, Jurgen Debono, Joel Ellul.
Coach: Oliver Spiteri
VALLETTA Henry Bonello, Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri, Juan Cruz Gill, Santiago Malano, Michael Mifsud (73′ Romeu Pericles Romao), Jean Borg, Enmy Manuel Pena Beltre, Denni Rocha dos Santos (63′ Rowen Muscat), Miguel Angel Alba (82′ Kyrian Nwoko), Albert Prosa.
Subs not used: Nicky Vella, Shaun Dimech, Russell Fenech, Nicholas Pulis.
Coach: Danilo Doncic
Referee: Philip Farrugia
Assistant Referees: Jurgen Spiteri, William Debattista
Fourth Official: Jude Amin Utulu
Yellow Cards: R. Grech
BOV Player of the Match: Yuri de Jesus Messias
Meanwhile at the Hibernians Stadium, a brace by Uros Ljubomirac gave Balzan a 2-1 win over Sliema Wanderers.
The leaders therefore extended their positive run to fourteen matches with an eighth win in nine matches. Sliema, on the other hand, have now gone four matches without a win and share fifth place with Hibs, Hamrun and Birkirkara but the Paolites and the Stripes have a game in hand.
Balzan had Serbian defender Ivan Bozovic making his first appearance for the club along with Siraj Arab Eddin who was included as a substitute. Ghanian defender Nii Nortey Ashong made his debut for the Blues when he was included as a substitute. Mark Scerri and Ricardo Calixto Correa Duarte were both missing for Sliema as they served a one-match ban.
Following a goalless first half, Balzan took the lead on the 66th minute thanks to Uros Ljubomirac who received an assist by Alex da Paixao Alves and beat Glenn Zammit with a powerful drive.
One minute from time, Balzan scored the second goal when following a good move by Bojan Kaljevic, he served Uros Ljubomirac who hit home from close range.
In added time, Sliema scored a consolation goal thanks to Mathias Muchardi whose freekick gave goalkeper Sean Mintoff no chance.
SLIEMA Glenn Zamit, Stefano Bianciardi, Matias Muchardi, Frank Temile, Nicolae Milincenau, Gabriel Aquilina (71′ Frenci Qeros), Michele Sansone, Peter Xuereb (90′ Kurt Shaw), Jonathan Pearson (30′ Nii Nortey Ashong), John Mintoff, Goran Adamovic.
Coach: John Buttigieg
BALZAN Sean Mintoff, Steve Bezzina, Alfred Effiong (88′ Siraj Eddin Arab), Elkin Orlando Serrano Valero, Uros Ljubomirac, Ivan Bozovic (70′ Justin Grioli), Bojan Kaljevic, Paul Fenech, Milos Lepovic, Bruno Giglio de Oliveira, Alex Da Paixao Alves (89′ Michael Johnson).
Coach: Marko Micovic
Referee: Alan Mario Sant
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, Paul Apap
Fourth Official: Darryl Agius
Yellow Cards: M. Lepovic, A. Da Paixao Alves, J. Grioli
BOV Player of the Match: Bojan Kaljevic (B)
Attendance at the Hibernians Stadium: 442