UNBEATEN CHAMPIONS 2010-2011
For the football-mad residents of the capital, two years without winning the league is a long time but the ghost was firmly laid to rest on May 7th 2011, as Valletta were crowned champions for the 20th time in their glorious history.
As is their want, the supporters turned out in full force to pay homage to their heroes who, having surged into an impregnable lead at the top with three games to spare, were finally able to get their hands on the Premier League trophy.
And Valletta had added reason to rejoice yesterday as their 2-2 draw with Tarxien Rainbows elevated their success to another level as they became the “invincibles” after going through an entire league campaign unbeaten.
The game was low-key as the party mood made it difficult for the City players to focus on the task at hand, but credit also goes to the Rainbows who refused to get caught up in the fevered atmosphere.
But, the day belonged to Valletta and their jubilant fans who transformed the enclosure into a sea of red and white. They let out a roar of joy as the referee’s final whistle echoed around the stadium, sparking wild celebrations which reached a crescendo when captain Gilbert Agius hoisted the trophy, the symbol of domestic supremacy.
The delirious supporters went through their repertoire of chants as the players, technical staff and club officials, led by president Victor Sciriha, basked in their moment of glory.
Eager to live up to their reputation as the most passionate supporters in Maltese football, the hard-core fans wore different costumes. Some dressed up as sailors while others wore Scottish kilts.
Valletta even had three mascots cheering the fans who thronged the enclosure while others spilled into the Millennium Stand.
Zerafa made two changes from the previous game with Steve Borg, back after serving a one-match ban, getting the nod ahead of Ramon and Kevin Sammut was preferred to Ryan Fenech.
For Tarxien, Sergio was ruled out by suspension. As expected, coach Noel Coleiro left Orosco Anonam and Gianluca Calabretta out of the starting formation as both had three yellow cards to their name, meaning that another caution would have put them out of Saturday’s semi-final.
In addition to their quest to end the season unbeaten, Valletta also took to the field with the intent of doing everything in their power to help team-mate Terrence Scerri overhaul Alfred Effiong at the top of the scorers’ chart after the Marsaxlokk forward’s hat-trick in the 6-3 win over ?amrun on Friday took him two goals clear of the City forward.
The Citizens set the early pace. It didn’t take them long to break the deadlock as, after 14 minutes, they were awarded a penalty when Tarxien defender Lee Galea barged into the advancing Scerri inside the box.
Referee Paul Caruana pointed to the spot and Scerri converted, driving his shot low into the bottom-left corner.
Scerri had the chance to reach Effiong’s tally of 17 goals when Denni picked him out with an astute pass but fired wide from an angled position.
Tarxien had not shown much attacking intent in the early stages but they would have drawn level were it not for Valletta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg who touched Cristiano’s looping header over the bar.
Zerafa was forced into an early substitution as Gilbert Agius’s participation was cut short by injury.
The City captain was replaced by Fenech.
For much of the opening half-hour, the game resembled a training session as the proceedings were devoid of intensity.
The Rainbows were seeing more of the ball as the first half progressed. Their improvement reaped instant rewards as, four minutes from half-time, Julian Vella swung in a measured cross from the left and Ricardo Costa headed past Hogg.
Costa’s goal shook Valletta out of the comfort zone. Barely a minute later, the champions had regained the lead, Edmond Agius flicking the ball in after getting on the end of Sammut’s inviting centre.
But, just over a minute from the start of the second half had elapsed when Tarxien made it 2-2, Bueno sending a glancing header into the net from another fine Grioli cross.
Bueno’s equaliser went a long way towards showing that Tarxien had no intention of lying down.
As Valletta toiled to raise their tempo, the fans urged the players to increase their efforts.
Denni hit wide after a one-two with Fenech and, minutes later, the Brazilian was hauled off by Zerafa who introduced striker Ian Zammit.
Jamie Pace unleashed a powerful drive from a quickly-taken free-kick but the ball cannoned off the bar. Valletta did move through the gears as the second half gained pace.
At the other end, Vella’s cross into the City box sparked a melee as Cristiano’s movement unsettled the City defenders but Borg deflected the Brazilian striker’s effort into Hogg’s hands.
The remaining minutes offered little in the way of goalmouth action but the sight of Valletta players mounting a late charge drew a roar of approval from the City fans who reignited their celebrations when referee Caruana blew the final whistle.
(Source - Times of Malta)