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Day 2 Valletta 2 Hibs 3

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Hibernians drew first blood in what is expected to be another season of close competition with rivals Valletta and Birkirkara.

It’s too early in the season to talk of title showdowns but for both Valletta and Hibernians, their first competitive encounter of the 2013-2014 BOV Premier League campaign was all about making a statement of intent.

Yesterday the Paolites showed that they mean business as they recovered from an opaque first period to edge out Valletta in a tale of two halves.

The turning point of the match came just before half-time.

Valletta striker Denni turned from hero to villain as after netting a gem of a goal, he was shown a straight red card after he elbowed Hibernians defender Ryan Camilleri.

Until then, Hibernians looked disjointed and rarely troubled the Valletta rearguard.

But they managed to make their numerical advantage count to score twice in the second half in dramatic fashion and gain the much-needed win that left them as the only team in the top flight with maximum points from the opening two matches.

The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of former Hibernians president Anthony Sammut who passed away last week.

Edmond Agius’s suspension compelled Valletta coach Mark Miller to make one change from the team that earned a hard-fought victory over Mosta last week. Malta international Shawn Bajada took up Agius’s screening duties in front of Valletta’s four-man defence.

Brazilian defender Rodolfo Soares, sidelined against Tarxien with a fractured toe, was back in the fray for Hibernains in the place of Nigerian striker Obinna Obiefule who had to settle for a place on the bench.

It was the Lilywhites who made the stronger start.

Inside the first two minutes quick one-touch passing between Ryan Fenech and Denni opened up the Hibernians side. The Brazilian astutely spotted Aziz Corr Nyang’s darting run down the right and duly served him with a perfect pass.

The pacey Nyang swept past Jonathan Pearson but his vicious cross-cum-shot finished just over the bar.

Nyang’s speed and dribbling were clearly giving Hibernians a hard time down the left flank, ruthlessly exposing the Paolities’ three-man defence frailties.

Few moments later, another dazzling turn by the Gambian winger unsettled the Hibs defence again, but Barry Hamza stretched in vain to make a proper contact with Nyang’s cross.

But Valletta broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion after 22 minutes. Denni’s fierce drive soared over Hibernians goal-keeper Mario Muscat and nestled into the top corner of the net.

The Brazilian’s screamer had a galvansing effect on Valletta and the Paolities fell 2-0 down on the half-hour mark.

Retrieving possession inside the Paolites’ half, Hamza strode forward before unleasing a stunning drive that soared into top corner off a deflection by Pearson as goalkeeper Muscat looked on helplessly.

Valletta’s double advantage clearly left Branko Niservic’s side with a mountain to climb but two minutes from half-time, the Paolites reduced the arrears.

Serbian defender Zoran Levnaic headed home from close range following a Jackson Lima corner.

More woes followed for Valletta as two minutes later, they were dealt an unexpected blow when Denni marred his performance by hitting Hibernians defender Camilleri and referee Alan Mario Sant had no option but to show him the red card.

With his team down to 10 men, Miller instructed his team to play 4-4-1 with Nyang leading their attack.

But Hibernians gained instant profit from their numerical advantage as barely two minutes into the second half, collecting possession deep in his own half, Camilleri left his defensive station to surge forward as he ran past two Valletta midfielders before threading a throughpass to Edison.

The Brazilian left himself almost no margin of error in slicing the ball between Valletta goalkeeper Pietro Marino and the upright from an angled position.

As the minutes ticked away, it was Hibernians who were growing in confidence with Miller’s men finding it difficult to reclaim the territorial dominance they had enjoyed so comfortably in the first half.

After 65 minutes, Valletta goalkeeper Marino saved Bjorn Kristensen’s header from Lima’s free-kick.

The Italian goalkeeper immediately launched a quick counter-attack but Nyang was thwarted in front of goal by a timely tackle from Camilleri.

After 73 minutes, Valletta’s defence was unlocked by a neat three-man move.

Soares picked the ball on the left flank and exchanged it with Edison with Cohen running in to meet the Brazilian’s cross but Marino put a desperate touch to claw the ball away.

At the other end, in a swift counter-attack, Muscat had to produce a smart save to push away Bajada’s shot on the turn.

Jean Paul Farrugia was then roped in at the expense of Kristensen and the Hibs substitute made an almost instant impact on the match as he hit the dramatic winner 15 minutes from time.

Soares drove a long ball to the edge of the Valletta’s box, where Farrugia anticipated Roderick Briffa before managing to squeeze the ball past the onrushing Marino before depositing the ball into an empty net.Source:

VALLETTA – P. Marino, R. Fenech, R. Briffa, A. Corr Nyang, H. Barry, D. Falzon (I. Azzopardi), S. Bajda (I. Zammit), J. Vandelannoite, Y. Camilleri (A. Nafti), D. Dos Santos, L. Dimech.

HIBS – M. Muscat, A. Cohen, R. Camilleri, J. Pearson, J. Lima, M. Dias (M. Bartolo), B. Kristensen (J. P. Farrugia), C. Failla, Z. Levnajic (M. Tabone), E. Luis Dos Santos, R. Soares.

Date: 25-08-13 Time: 20:30 Venue: National Stadium

Yellow Cards: R. Soares, B. Kristensen, E. Luis Dos Santos, M. Bartolo (H), R. Briffa, L. Dimech (V)

Red Cards: D. Dos Santos

Scorers: 22′ D. Dos Santos, 30′ H. Barry, 43′ Z. Levnajic, 49′ E. Luis Dos Santos, 76′ J. P. Farrugia.

Man of Match: Ryan Camilleri (H)