Day 23 Valletta 1 Sliema W 1
Valletta failed to break down Sliema’s dogged resistance as Alfonso Greco’s troops punctured Valletta’s progress with Valletta losing ground on leaders Birkirkara this afternoon.
Valletta were buoyed by the return of Tunisian midfielder Abdelkarim Nafti who replaced Nigeria-born striker Abayomi Owonikoko. The task of filling for Owonikoko as the lone striker fell on the shoulders of Jean Mifsud Triganza with Denni and Nafti played either side of the lanky striker.
And the Tunisian made an immediate impact, scoring with the first move of quality inside the first five minutes. Nafti made inroads on the left flank with a typical driving before veering to the centre and unleashed a piledrive that fizzed past Henry Bonello.
Sliema were again caught out at the back after 22 minutes, when Ryan Fenech exploited space on the left before flicking the ball forward to Denni whose perfect cross landed invitingly to Mifsud Trignza. The striker looked certain to score but his point-blank header finished on the post and the rebound was repelled by the sliding Clifford Gatt Baldacchino.
It was mainly one-way traffic in the opening half-hour and Sliema had their first glimpse of goal when Gatt Baldacchino sped through the middle before hitting a low shot that finished just off the base of the far post after 40 minutes.
Greco tried to improve the Blues’ firepower introducing Ivan Woods for Cilia and three minutes into the second half, Alex Muscat passed the ball to Admir Vladavic who cut in from the right but his effort sailed over the bar.
Shy the hour mark, referee Chris Lautier ordered a direct free-kick for Sliema, just outside the box, a debatable decision that irked the Valletta coach Andre Paus. From the ensuing kick, Vladavic’s effort soared menacing towards goal but the ball cannoned off the woodwork before Woods slid in to meet the rebound and diverted it over the line.
Stunned by Woods’s equaliser, Valletta swiftly regained the initiative. They were denied by Bonello on 69 minutes as the goalkeeper pushed away a close-range header from Mifsud Triganza. From the ensuing corner, Sliema were reprieved by assistant referee Thomas Debono’s raised flag which annulled Denni goal for offside after a fine move but that mattered little as Sliema hung on to their equaliser.
VALLETTA – N. Revishvili, J. Caruana, S. Borg, R. Fenech, R. Briffa, H. Barry (E. Agius), A. Nafti, S. Bajada, J. P. Mifsud Triganza (L. Montebello), I. Masuradze, D. Dos Santos.
SLIEMA – H. Bonello, A. Muscat, J. Mintoff, M. Scerri, S. Ohauchi, C. Gatt Baldacchino (K. Farrugia), T. Cilia (I. Woods), P. Barbetti, M. Muchardi, S. Biancardi, A. Vladavic.
Date: 23.02.14 Time: 16:00 Venue: National Stadium
Yellow Cards: P. Barbetti (S), S. Bajada, R. Fenech (V)
Scorers: 6′ A. Nafti, 59′ I. Woods
Man of Match: A. Vladavic (S)
Referee: Chris Lautier