Day 19: Valletta 2 Floriana 1
Valletta underlined their comeback qualities as they hit back from a goal down to beat rivals Floriana 2-1.
The Greens had high hopes of ending their eight-year wait for a derby win in the league after playing the better football and taking an early lead in the first half but luck again deserted them.
Floriana hit the woodwork twice in quick succession before Valletta equalised, a sequence of events that changed the course of the game as the relentless Citizens took matters in hand in the final 20 minutes.
With this win, Valletta have opened a four-point lead on Hibs who meet Qormi tomorrow but, more importantly, they produced a bold response after their FA Trophy exit at the hands of Birkirkara.
Michael Mifsud made his first start since rejoining Valletta in midweek while goalkeeper Henry Bonello was back in the fray, replacing Nicky Vella who was on the bench.
For Floriana, Matteo Piciollo started ahead of Mario Fontanella.
A tight first half produced few scoring chances but one key moment that enabled Floriana to take the lead.
It came on 18 minutes as Valletta midfielder Claudio Pani was deemed to have pulled down the advancing Piciollo just inside the box with referee Alan Mario Sant whistling a penalty. Argentine striker Mauricio Villa stroked his shot past the wrong-footed Bonello to send the Floriana in raptures.
Valletta struggled to produce a decent reaction as they were unable to cope with Floriana’s high pressing game.
Mifsud was wide with a shot from the distance.
The second half had only just begun when Valletta won a free-kick in an inviting position after Enrico Pepe deflected Jhonnattann’s cross with his arm. The Brazilian’s set-piece cross dropped in the six-yard box but Floriana cleared.
Moments later, Jhonnattann picked out Mifsud with a fine through-ball but Emanuel Briffa sprinted back to hook the ball away from the nippy striker.
But Floriana had a great chance to increase their lead when Nicolas Chiesa, roaming on the left wing, set up Piciollo who turned well before curling a shot that crashed against the crossbar.
The danger refused to go away for the Whites as, within minutes, the woodwork again came to their rescue as Villa’s headed, from Steve Pisani’s corner, came off the crossbar before Valletta cleared for a corner.
Valletta also had a glorious chance to equalise as Pani’s measured cross from the right was met by Falcone but his downward header drew a brilliant save from Calleja Cremona.
The Whites equalised midway into the second half thanks to Jhonnattann who surged past a host of Floriana players to reach Briffa’s excellent pass before slotting past Calleja Cremona.
Bolstered by their goal, Valletta were more dangerous going forward. They went ahead four minutes from time when Briffa’s cross from the right caused a goalmouth scramble and Umeh Calistus, who had replaced Mifsud, fired home to the immense delight of the Valletta supporters.
As Floriana committed more men forward, Valletta had another inviting opportunity to seal the issue but Briffa, set up by the irrepressible Falcone, blasted high with only Calleja Cremona to beat.
Floriana winger Piciollo was named BOV player of the match.
Source – times of malta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, J. Gill Cruz (I. Azzopardi), R. Briffa, M. Mifsud (U. Calistus), J. Caruana, L. Cremona (J. Borg), R. Romao, F. Falcone, J. Benites, R. Camilleri, C. Pani.
FLORIANA. – M. Calleja Cremona, A. Scicluna (J. Cabral), A. Monticelli, E. Pepe, S. Pisani, C. Borg (M. Fontanella), M. Villa, M. Piciollo, S. Bonnici, E. Briffa, N. Chiesa.
Scorers: 19′ M. Villa (pen), 68. J. Benites, 85′ U. Calistus (V)
Yellow Cards: C. Borg, A. Scicluna, J. Cabral (F), R. Romao, U. Calistus, J. Benites (V)
Man of Match: M. Piciollo (F)
Referee: Alan Mario Sant