City beat Hibs at the death Published on: 13-12-2013
Valletta sent an ominous warning to the other title contenders this season when they came from a goal down to overcome Hibernians in a top-of-the-table clash, last night.
The Citizens’ dramatic victory owes much to the tactical bravery of coach Mark Miller who showed commendable courage to effect some attack-minded substitutions after the interval that enabled his team to turn around a match that looked slipping beyond his team’s grasp.
For much of the match it was Valletta who had held the initiative but they were unable to impose their slick passing game on a compact Hibernians rearguard.
When Luis Edison put the Paolites ahead on the stroke of half-time, the City fans must have feared that they were in for another frustrating night.
But Miller then introduced Tunisian midfielder Abdelkerim Nafti.
Valletta started to threaten more the Hibs defence and it was no surprise that from one of Nafti’s set-piece crosses City drew level.
The City coach, however, was not happy with a draw and with 15 minutes to go he sent in Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza and the substitute rewarded his mentor with a last-gasp goal that earned his team a crucial victory, lifting Valletta to second in the standings, one point adrift of leaders Birkirkara but now two clear of the Paolites.
Miller effected one change to his starting formation yesterday as Jonathan Caruana was back in the fray with Nafti settling for a place on the bench.
Caruana’s inclusion saw him partnering Luke Dimech in the heart of defence with Steve Borg moving to right back and Roderick Briffa advanced to a lateral midfield position.
Hibs were boosted with the return of Bjorn Kristensen who missed the 5-1 rout of Vittoriosa Stars through suspension.
Valletta made the brighter start and on three minutes Denni picked Edmund Agius on the edge of the area and the hard-tackling midfielder let fly a fierce drive that was turned to a corner by Mario Muscat, the Hibs goalkeeper.
One expected that this early opportunity would spark the game into life. But that failed to be the case as both teams lacked fluidity in their play with a series of rush challenges disrupting the game’s flow.
Hibs threatened through Andrew Cohen when he chipped the ball into the path of Luis Edison but the Brazilian was blocked by the onrushing Yenz Cini, the young City goalkeeper.
Lack of communication between Oscar Sanchez and Cini almost cost the Citizens dearly on 31 minutes as the defender’s back-header caught the goalkeeper by surprise but luckily for the Spaniard Sanchez the ball rolled wide.
The stalemate was finally broken on the stroke of half-time when Clayton Failla’s set-piece cross flew across goal and Edison’s touch was enough to push the ball past the stranded Cini.
After the interval one expected Valletta to step up their game in search of an equaliser but for much of the opening minutes they continued to run in circles.
Hibs coach Branko Nisevic withdrew Dias and introduced the more defensive Matthew Bartolo as Miller took off Raimi Bakare and drafted in Nafti.
The Tunisian immediately turned provider when his centre reached Denni whose header was blocked by defender Rodolfo Soares and from the rebound the Brazilian forward scrambled his shot wide.
Hibs were happy to soak the pressure but their tactics failed to yield dividends and on 69 minutes Nafti’s corner flew across the face of goal and into the path of Briffa who hit a firm low drive that nestled into Muscat’s net.
Miller showed his intent to go for the win when he withdrew Nyang for Mifsud Triganza who took the team’s central striking role.
Valletta’s forward momentum inevitably left them exposed at the back but the unmarked Lima dallied to conclude after being put through by Bartolo.
Hibs were reduced to ten men six minutes from time when Levnaic incurred a second booking.
Valletta stepped up a gear and Briffa picked the steaming Nafti who fired over.
Then, when everything was pointing to a draw, Valletta struck.
The clock marked 90 minutes when Fenech arrowed a cross into the path of Mifsud Triganza who headed past Muscat to send the City fans into delirium.
Source - Times of Malta