Day 4: Valletta 0 Balzan 1
Balzan produced a resilient performance to upstage the erstwhile unbeaten Valletta in a pulsating premier league game.
Lydon Micallef scored Balzan’s winner early in the second half as Oliver Spiteri’s team piled the pressure on Valletta in the first 50 minutes and then dug in to repel the Citizens’ fierce reaction.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit introduced more forwards in the second half as the Whites desperately pushed for an equaliser but Balzan held on to maintain their own unbeaten start, underlining their ability to challenge for the honours this season.
The game was off to an explosive start.
Barely 24 seconds from the start had passed when Valletta goalkeeper Nicky Vella, stepping in for the injured Henry Bonello, made a routine save from Alfred Effiong’s grounder.
The Whites were quick to reply, Roderick Briffa running into the box before hitting a shot that was beaten away by Valerio Senatore, the Balzan goalkeeper.
Balzan were the more enterprising side in the early stages. Justin Grioli’s right-wing corner triggered confusion the City box with the ball falling to Effiong who sent his shot over the bar from an inviting position.
With Valletta looking somewhat edgy at the back, Lydon Micallef raced into the box from the right but his shot was kept out by Vella. The loose ball rolled to Edison Bilbao Zarate whose drive ended into the net after coming off Micallef but the latter was offside.
Reprieved, Valletta tried to raise their game.
Around the 20th minute mark, Priso sped clear on the left before squaring to Jhonnattann but the latter’s effort was held off by the alert Elkin Serrano.
Balzan, still missing injured strikers Bojan Kaljevic and Alex Vujacic, remained the better side.
That could have changed close to the half-hour as Priso, pulling off a series of feints to throw the Balzan defenders off balance, unleashed a dangerous shot from close distance but the ball crashed against the far post.
Jhonnattann’s strong free-kick was palmed away by Senatore who was prominent again when keeping out Briffa’s goalbound effort after Valletta’s Brazilian forward had sent in a teasing cross from a corner.
Before the end of the first half, Balzan created an opening as Mensha and Effiong combined to set up Micallef but the latter’s drive was blocked.
Three minutes into the second half, Mensha outpaced the hesitant Jonathan Caruana to sprint into the box but his low strike was turned away by Vella.
From the resultant corner, taken by Grioli, Micallef cut inside Ryan Camilleri before chipping the ball into the far corner.
Eighteen minutes into the second half, Zammit made a double substitution, bringing on Abdelkarim Nafti and Llywelyn Cremona for Albert Bruce and Ryan Camilleri.
Nafti got on the end of Priso’s low pass but his scrambled effort was wide.
Valletta pushed forward.
Priso’s shot from inside the box was blocked, Cremona was first to the loose ball but his effort was pushed away by Senatore.
The danger was not over yet as Falcone headed goalwards but the ball appeared to come off Samir Arab with Valletta shouting ‘penalty’ but referee Trustin Farrugia Cann saw nothing wrong.
The Citizens’ optimism rose when Priso advanced into the box but his effort was deflected away for a corner by the brilliant Serrano. Senatore then stopped Priso’s chip.
As Valletta pressed forward, Balzan switched to counter-attacking mode. Effiong sprinted clear but his attempt was saved by Vella.
A minute from the end, Senatore easily saved Falcone’s tame header from Pani’s cross. The Argentine then headed over from Nafti’s cross.
Balzan defender Serrano was voted BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – N. Vella, R. Briffa, J. Caruana, C. Pani, J. Cruz Gill, I. Azzopardi (J. P. Mifsud Triganza), N. Priso, A. Bruce (L. Cremona), R. Camilleri (A. Nafti), F. Falcone, J. Benites.
BALZAN – V. Senatore, S. Bezzina, L. Micallef (T. Agius), E. Bilbao Zarate, S. Arab, M. Focsa, G. Mensha (R. Darmanin), A. Effiong (D. Grima), E. Serrano Valero, L. Sciberras, J. Grioli.
Scorers: L. Micallef (B)
Yellow Cards: N. Priso (V) E. Serrano Valero (B)
Man of Match: E. Serrano Valero (B)
Referee: T. Farrugia