Day 6: Valletta 3 Naxxar 1
Valletta were back to winning ways but they were really made to fight hard for the three points by Naxxar Lions.
Bottom of the table with no points from five games, Naxxar were given little chance of gaining something from their match against Valletta but they were in the game until the dying minutes when substitute Calictus Umeh struck the third goal to ease the pressure on the Citizens who played the entire second half with 10 men following the sending-off of Brazilian Romeu Romao.
The first half took a while to come to life as Valletta found it difficult to penetrate the Naxxar Lions defence.
Close to the 17th minute mark, Valletta survived a minor scare as Jurgen Debono’s set-piece cross sailed into the penalty area with a Valletta defender heading the ball away for a corner as goalkeeper Henry Bonello came out to clear.
Valletta striker Federico Falcone was wide with a shot from outside the box and, at the other end, Ossou Sidoine outfoxed Ryan Camilleri as he moved infield from the left before hitting a strong drive that Bonello saved with the aid of the post.
From the ensuing corner, Lattes floated a dangerous cross into the six-yard box but his service found no takers.
Midway into the first half, Zammit was forced into his first substitution as Italian midfielder Claudio Pani limped off the pitch after picking up an injury. He was replaced by Nigerian forward Calictus Umeh.
Valletta forged ahead five minutes from half-time.
Romeu Romao’s cross from the right was deflected towards Abdelkarim Nafti who controlled before curling his shot into the far corner.
Valletta were relieved but Naxxar battled on.
The Lions threatened when Daren Falzon swept past Llywelyn Cremona on the left and sent in a menacing cross-shot that Bonello managed to tip over the bar. The danger was not over for Valletta as Debono’s cross from the resultant corner was headed goalwards by Sidoine but Romao blocked the ball with his hands.
Andorran referee Ignasi Villamayor duly whistled a penalty and dismissed the Brazilian but Falzon’s shot from the spot drew a fine save from Bonello.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, the Lions lost the speedy Sidoine to a thigh injury. He was replaced by Duane Bonnici.
Valletta had a good chance to increased their lead when Priso sprinted into the box from the right and cut the ball back for Falcone whose drive was blocked. Briffa was first to the loose ball but his effort was high.
Poor passing was complicating matters for Valletta.
Midway into the second half, Nafti gave the ball away in midfield and Naxxar quickly surged forward.
Falzon supplied a through-ball to Debono who ran into the box but Ian Azzopardi slid in to push the ball away from the Lions winger amid shouts of ‘penalty’. The referee saw nothing wrong.
From the possibility of drawing level, Naxxar found themselves two behind.
Briffa stoke possession in midfield and advanced before picking out Nafti with a perfect pass, The Tunisian strode forward on the the right and, seeing Pecorella off his line, duly chipped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.
At the other end, Richard Cardozo headed over after Lattes’s corner was deflected into his path.
Naxxar thought they had narrowed the deficit when Briffa miscued his clearance from Debono’s free-kick and Cardozo headed in but the Australian was offside.
Priso might have added to Valletta’s lead but his grounder was repelled by Pecorella.
Naxxar pulled one back a minute later. Ishmael Grech’s cross from the halfway line soared above the hesitant Valletta defenders as Falzon pulled clear of Azzopardi before firing past Bonello.
The Lions gained courage but their hopes were dashed in stoppage time when Jurgen Suda, on as a late substitute, showed great composure as he raced forward before releasing Umeh who prodded past Pecorella.
Abdelkarim Nafti, the Valletta winger, was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, R. Briffa, C. Pani (U. Calistus), J. Cruz Gill, I. Azzopardi, N. Priso (J. Suda), A. Nafti (D. Camilleri), L. Cremona, R. Camilleri, F. Falcone, R. Romao.
NAXXAR L. – L. Pecorella, B. Rajovic (M. Del Negro), A. Scicluna, L. Lodetti, R. Cardozo, S. Ousso (D. Bonnici), D. Falzon, J. Debono, I. Grech, E. lattes, A. Viera dos Santos (S. Hadzibulic)
Scorers: 40′ 73′ A. Nafti 89′, 92′ U. Caalistus (V), D. Falzon (N)
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: R. Romao (V)
Man of Match: Abdelkarim Nafti (V)
Referee: Ignasi Villamyor (And.)