Day 14: Valletta 4 Birkirkara 0
Expectations of a close encounter between title hopefuls Valletta and Birkirkara failed to materialise as the Citizens outsmarted their rivals to cruise to a 4-0 victory.
While Birkirkara probably enjoyed more possession, Valletta were devastating going forward as the likes of Federico Falcone, Njongo Priso and Abdelkarim Nafti blew the Birkirkara apart with their intelligent movement.
This emphatic victory sent Valletta top, three points clear of Hibernians who play Naxxar Lions tomorrow, while Birkirkara, who have been under pressure since the start of the season, risk dropping further down the table.
Paul Zammit and Giovanni Tedesco, the respective coaches of Valletta and Birkirkara, opted for a three-man defence bu while the Stripes had two strikers in Liliu and Vito Plut, the Whites started with Federico Falcone up front and Njongo Priso behind.
There was little of note in the opening stages. On 16 minutes, Birkirkara’s Ryan Camenzuli made progresse on the right but his shot was wide.
Valletta went in front midway into the first half. Nigerian Umeh Calistus made a strong run on the left wing before aiming a low cross towards the far post and Falcone lifted his shot past Justin Haber, the Birkirkara goalkeeper.
The vocal City fans were in seventh heavem.
Birkirkara made a reaction, wining a series of corners. Liliu swooped on a loose ball inside the box but his effort took a deflection and Vella saved.
The City goalkeeper then pushed away away a menacing cross from Gareth Sciberras as Birkirkara continued to hammer at Valletta’s defence.
The Citizens’ counter-attacking strategy yielded a second goal 11 minutes from half-time.
And it was a fine strike as Roderick Briffa’s first-time volley soared into the net after the midfielder had been teed up by Romeu Romao.
Two goals down, Birkirkara had to react. Nikola Vukanac headed wide from Liliu’s cross before Tedesco took off Camenzuli in favour of Spaniard Juan Barraso, a move that didn’t go down well with the Birkirkara fans.
Late in the first half, Vella was alert to push away Liliu’s insidious shot.
Birkirkara came out early for the second half.
Liliu miscued his shot after the City defenders had failed to clear a Zerafa cross but, in a fast counter-attacj., Valletta had a great opportunity to make it 3-0.
Nafti launched the move as the Tunisian drove forward through the middle before serving Priso who had nipped behind Mazzetti but the Valletta winger’s first touch was heavy.
Priso then volleyed wide from Nafti’s cross but a minute short of the hour, the Cameroonian winger found the net. He converted a penalty he himself had won after being pushed by Mazzetti.
Valletta held off Birkirkara’s efforts to reduce the deficit before adding a fourth goal thanks to substitute Jean Borg who hit past Haber after receiving from Llywelyn Cremona.
Briffa, Valletta’s experienced midfielder, was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – N. Vella, R. Camilleri, J. Gill Cruz, R. Briffa (L. Cremona), N. Priso (J. P. Mifsud Triganza), U. Calistus, C. Pani, J. Caruana, A. Nafti, R. Romao, F. Falcone (J. Borg).
BIRKIRKARA- J. Haber, Z. Muscat, N. Vuk,anac, M. Mazetti, J. Zerafa, G. Sciberras, R. Muscat (F. Temile), R. Scicluna, R. Camenzuli (J. Barraso), E. Morias, V. Plut.
Scorers: 22′ F. Falcone, 34′ R. Briffa, 59′ N. Priso, 92′ J. Borg.
Yellow Cards: J. Caruana, R. Romao, N. Priso (V), E. Morais, M. Mazetti, N. Vukanac (B).
Man of Match: R. Briffa (V)
Referee: E. Azzopardi