UBet FA Trophy Valletta 2 Hibs 3 Published on: 18-05-2013
In a game of unrelenting drama and controversy, Hibernians edged past rivals Valletta 3-2 in the second semi-final of the U*Bet FA Trophy.
Hibs, the holders, will meet Qormi in a repeat of last year's final after coming through a tense clash that featured three red cards and two penalties, all coming in an incredible first half.
After starting the game in bright fashion, Valletta looked down and out after they had two players, Jason Lee Vandelannoite and goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo sent off in the space of three minutes, and fell two goals behind.
But the dismissal of Hibs goalkeeper Mario Muscat reopened the issue as the scored on the stroke of half-time.
Chasing a win to keep their Trophy hopes alive, more so after missing out on the league title, Valletta pushed forward in the second half but their hopes were extinguished when Hibs went 3-1 up midway into the second half.
Valletta goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo produced his first save after four minutes, diving to his left to block Bjorn Kristensen's header from Clayton Failla's free-kick.
The Citizens would have taken the lead but for the woodwork as Demba Toure's thunderbolt came off the crossbar after the Senegalese forward had received from Michael Mifsud.
It was Valletta who continued to play the better football. They should have opened the scoring on 26 minutes when Ryan Fenech sprinted into the box from the left but, instead of shooting, the Malta midfielder opted to pass the ball towards Denni who was dispossessed by Andrew Cohen.
Hibs struggled for inspiration but, out of the blue, they received a double boost seven minutes from half-time. They managed to produce a fine move as Luis Edison's cross from the right found the unmarked Clayton Failla whose first-time effort came off Jason Lee Vandelannoite's raised hands. Referee Clayton Pisani pointed to the spot and dismissed Valletta's Belgian defender.
Failla's drive from the spot was pushed away by Bartolo but the Hibs winger scored from the rebound. That was not the end of the drama as Bartolo, the City goalkeeper, appeared to kick Zoran Levnaic in anger and he was subsequently sent off by Pisani, leaving his team with nine men.
This decision angered the Valletta fans as some tried to jump over the fence while a flying seat landed close to their team's dug-out. They called for their team to abandon the game.
Yenz Cini, Valletta's reserve goalkeeper who came on for William Barbosa, was beaten on the stroke of half-time by Failla's flick after good work by Dias.
The game looked as good as over but, in first-half stoppage time, the stormy game produced another contentious episode as Mario Muscat, the Hibs goalkeeper, was sent off for tripping the goalbound Fenech. Toure made no mistake from the spot to revive Valletta's hopes.
Despite being a man down, Valletta started the second half on the attack. Mifsud blasted over from outside the box before Hibs created three chances, one through Cohen who fired wide, and the other two courtesy of Edison. The Brazilian's first effort was stopped by Cini and, minutes later, his angled strike ended just wide.
Valletta refused to give in. Back they came to force three quick corners but Hibs weathered the pressure. Their efforts looked to have been rewarded when Fenech ran past Jonathan Pearson inside the box before laying the ball back to Mifsud who mishit his effort.
Pearson then blocked another Mifsud strike as the game continued to ebb and flow. Jackson Lima, who had just replaced Levnaic, was wide from the distance.
Midway into the second half, Hibs all but sealed their win when they re-established their two-goal lead. Edison dispossessed City defender Jonathan Caruana and ran into the box unchallenged before beating Cini.
Mifsud had a weak effort saved by Balzan before making way for Abubakar Bello-Osagie.
With seven minutes left, Luke Dimech fouled the advancing Dias and Cohen's free-kick came off the post.
Hibs should have added a fourth goal in the dying moments when, in a counter-attack, Dias passed to Obinna Obiefule, who had come on for Edison, skewed his attempt.
Valletta gained a glimmer of hope when, in stoppage time, Roderick Briffa narrowed the deficit, his shot taking a deflection on its way home. Their spirits rose further when they were awarded a free-kick out on the left as coach Mark Miller instructed Cini to go up in attack but Dimech's poor shot was blocked by a Hibs defender.
VALLETTA - M. Bartolo, I. Azzopardi, J. Caruana, M. Mifsud (A. Bello Osagie), R. Briffa, D. Toure, L. Dimech, J. Vandelannoite, R. Fenech, D. Dos Santos, W. Barbosa (Y. Cini)
HIBERNIANS - M. Muscat., R. Camilleri, J. Pearson, R. Soares, A. Cohen, B. Kristensen, M. Dias, C. Failla, Z. Levnajic (J. Lima), E. Luis Dos Santos (O. Obiefule), J. P. Farrugia (D. Balzan)
Date: 18-05-13 Time: 18:00 Venue: National Stadium
Yellow Cards: I. Azzopardi, W. Barbosa, L. Dimech, J. Caruana (V), J. Pearson (H)
Red Cards: J. Vandelannoite, M. Bartolo (V), M. Muscat (H)
Scorers: 39', 45' C. Failla, 45' D. Toure, 66' E. Luis Dos Santos, 91' R. Briffa.
Referee: Clayton Pisani