Day 32 Valletta 1 Hibs 2 Published on: 05-05-2013
Hibernians showed nerves of steel as they edged out rivals Valletta this afternoon to set up a Premier League title decider against Birkirkara next week.
After the Stripes beat Tarxien 1-0 in their last match to open a three-point gap at the top, the pressure was on Hibs to see off Valletta and keep their title bid alive.
It looked a tough proposition as Valletta, the outgoing champions, are still regarded as one of the strongest teams in the Premier League.
Birkirkara certainly hoped that their rivals would do them a favour but this failed to materialise as Hibs recovered from the disappointment of conceding an equaliser to strike the winner early in the second half.
As referee Kevin Azzopardi blew the final whistle, the vocal Hibs fans let out a roar of delight knowing that their team had earned themselves a chance to win the first title since 2009.
The buoyant Hibs fans couldn't have hoped for a better start as their team took the lead inside the opening five minutes. Brazilian Marcelo Dias won a free-kick outside the box and Clayton Failla produced a thumping drive that had the better of Yenz Cini in the Valletta goal.
Emboldened by their early breakthrough, Hibs stayed in control as Valletta struggled to get going.
Hibs had a good chance to double their lead when Failla played an excellent pass to Luis Edison who ran into the box but his grounder was wide.Valletta's reaction was restricted to shots by Dyson Falzon and Roderick Briffa which ended wide.
Valletta's response produced shots by Falzon and Briffa which were off target but they levelled on the half-hour. Ryan Fenech supplied a teasing cross from a free-kick and Luke Dimech was on hand to flick the ball past Mario Muscat, the Hibs goalkeeper.
The Citizens threatened to nose ahead when Denni surged towards the bye-line before swinging in an excellent cross but Demba Toure's header came off the side-netting.
At the other end, Luis Edison poked the ball home after Cini had partially saved Dias's grounder but the Brazilian forward was offside.Late in the first half, a strong shot by Dias was parried away by Cini.
Moments later, Hibs protested for a penalty when Cohen ended on the turf after tangling for possession with Ian Azzopardi but referee Kevin Azzopardi was unimpressed.
Hibs coach Michael Woods introduced Brazilian midfielder Jackson Lima for Zoran Levnaic at the start of the second half. Lima left an instant mark on the game as, less than three minutes after entering the field, his piledriver from the distance beat Cini.
The Paolites raised their game in search of a third goal that would all but seal their win. They had a good chance when Failla's low cross was diverted into the path of Farrugia but the latter's effort was deflected away for a corner by Dimech with the referee waving away Hibs claims of a handball by the City defender.Lima threatened again with a dipping volley that ended over the crossbar.
As the game reached the hour mark, Miller made a double substitution, Mifsud and Gabriel coming on for Azzopardi and Edmond Agius respectively.
It was Hibs who nearly scored a third goal when Luis Edison guided a through-ball to Dias whose pace took him past his marker but his diagonal strike whizzed past the far post after taking a deflection.
With 15 minutes remaining, Miller withdrew Denni in favour of Bello-Osagie, a decision that didn't go down well some City fans as the Brazilian had been one of Valletta's most enterprising performers.
There was another chance for Hibs when Luis Edison pulled the ball back for Lima but the Brazilian blasted over.
Hibs winger Failla was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA - Y. Cini, I. Azzopardi (M. Mifsud), J. Caruana, E. Agius (J. Gabriel Da Silva), R. Briffa, D. Toure, L. Dimech, J. Vandelannoite, R. Fenech, D. Dos Santos (A. Bello Osagie), D. Falzon,
HIBERNIANS - M. Muscat., R. Camilleri, J. Pearson, R. Soares, C. Failla, M. Diaz (O. Obiefule), A. Cohen, B. Kristensen, Z. Levniac (J. Lima), E. Dos Santos, J. P. Farrugia.
Date: 05-05-13 Time: 17:00 Venue: National Stadium
Yellow Cards: D. Dos Santos, R. Briffa, D. Falzon (V), Z. Levniac (H)
Scorers: 5' C. Failla, 29' L. Dimech, 48' J. Lima
Man of Match: Clayton Failla (H)
Referee: Kevin Azzopardi