Matchday 13: valletta 1 Hamrun S 0
Valletta weathered a second-half fightback from Ħamrun Spartans to put their league aspirations back on track with a hard-fought victory which earned them the second spot alongside Gżira United and six points adrift of leaders Floriana.
As it turned out, a tactically well-deployed Ħamrun Spartans were only just denied of the spoils against their more-fancied opponents. They had upped their game considerably in the second period to reduce Valletta to struggling lot. Although Valletta had been the more positive outfit in the first part of the game. their goalkeeper Henry Bonello had to pull of a couple of fine saves to keep his net intact.
Quiet, unproductive exchanges marked the opening minutes. Neither side was able to make any headway with custodians at both ends remaining idle.
Darren Abdilla, Valletta’s coach, must have been confident that the Lilywhites would pick maximum spoils with Mario Fontanella and Matteo Piciollo leading the forward line, it seemed simply a matter of time before one of the two would draw first blood.
But in reality, their Italian forward line blotted out in the first half and the only menace came from a bold run of Enmy Pena Beltre on the cusp of half-time, who swung a beautiful cross inside the penalty area for Fontonella to head the ball home.
Sporting a sturdy 4-1-3-2 formation, Ħamrun had Triston Caruana positioned in front of the defence. With Wilfried Domoraud and Ailton spearheading their attack, Manuele Blasi’s tactics frustrated Valletta as Caruana delivered a handful of inch-perfect passes that often had Valletta sweating to clear the danger.
In fact, on 42 minutes, Caruana masterminded an excellent pass with the ball drifting perfectly to Ailton. But Henry Bonello dived at his feet to clutch the ball and denied Ħamrun.
Moments, Ħamrun protested heavily when an Ailton drive hit the hand of Pena Beltre but referee Ishmael Barbara waved play on.
Fontanella came agonsingly close to double Valletta’s lead when he was put through by Piciollo who burst his past three opponents but the former incredibly tapped the ball wide with an open at his mercy.
A minute later, the Ħamrun supporters were on their feet as Alessio Capitelli’s through ball fell into Ailton’s path but he was thwarted by Bonello who blocked his effort in two attempts.
The Spartans grew in confidence and their best opportunity arrived on the hour mark when Domoraud scuffed the ball into the ground and watched it bounce in off the post.
Karl Micallef headed a free-kick by Marco Criaco straight into the path of substitute Ryan Darmanin who prodded the ball wide with only Bonello to beat, was sounding alarm signals for Valletta’s defence.
Shocked by this unexpected turn of events, Abdilla opted for a double substitution on 66minutes as Kyrian Nwoko and Shaun Dimech were introduced on the pitch in lieu of Piciollo and Kevin Tulimieri.
But it was Bonello who turned Valletta’s hero when he instinctively stopped Criaco’s long-range shot four minutes from time.
Mario Fontanella of Valletta was named BOV Player of the Match.
VALLETTA: H. Bonello, J. Caruana, S. Borg, M. Piciollo (K. Nwoko), J. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, R. Muscat, I. Dzaria, M. Fontanella (N. Pulis), K. Tulimieri (S. Dimech)
HAMRUN S.: M. Bartolo, A. Capitelli, T. Caruana, J. Soares Ailton, W. Domoraud, C. Failla, N. Leone, D. Borg (R. Darmanin), M. Criaco, K. Micallef, M. Cinquini.
Yellow Cards: J. Zerafa, H. Bonello, R. Muscat, M. Piciollo, M. Fontanella (V), N. Leone (H)
Scorers: 45′ M. Fontanella (V)
BOV Player of the Match: M. Fontanella (V)
Referee: M. Spiteri