Matchday 07: Valletta 1 Hibernians 1
Substitute Shawn Dimech’s 79th-minute equaliser earned Valletta a point and denied Hibernians a victory they deserved at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.
Jake Grech looked to have put Hibs on course for three points with a sweeping finish from Jurgen Degabriele’s pass.
Valletta had few efforts on goal but secured a draw when Dimech hit home from close-range from Curjuric’s throughball.
Hibs had controlled the game but never killed it off with Alessandro Guarnone making important interventions
Shorn of Caio Prado, Valletta coach Antonio Cardoso Mendes sacrificed the flair of Dimech for more muscle when he deployed Curjuric alongside James Arthur in central midfield. The pair of heavyweights spent the opening exchanges feeling each other out.
Sandro Sanderra signalled his intentions by naming two naming two playmakers-Bjorn Kristensen and Jake Grech in his starting line-up to support the attacking duo Wilfried Domoraud and Jurgen Degabriele.
Inside the fourth minute, Guarnone breathed a sigh of relief as Raphael’s wicked shot hit the outside of the post.
Valletta at times found themselves penned in their own half they held their shape in an attempt to prevent Hibs from playing balls into the space between defence and midfield.
Yet a superb run from Jean Borg – cutting in from the left and breezing past Grech – created an opportunity from which Mario Fontanella should have scored.
But the striker, unmarked in the box, few metres away from goal, uncharacteristically hit straight at Ibrahim Kone.
The Paolites continued to create a steady stream of chances with the French striker drawing a good save from Guarnone.
But then, Grech broke the impasse when he received a pass on the edge of the area from Degabriele, as he broke free of his marker to unleash a right-foot shot into the bottom corner.
Grech might have made it worse for Valletta in the opening minutes of the second half when he drilled a shot wide.
Shortly afterwards, Thaylor was blocked by the onrushing Guarnone just outside the box, after being put through cleverly by Kristensen.
On 58 minutes, Thaylor teased a wicked ball into the danger area as Valletta’s defence stood hypnotised, Guarnone blocked Degabriele’s central shot.
The pace of the match intensified, with Hibs’ superior passing stretching the Valletta defence, while the Lilywhites squandered possession too easily in the middle of the park.
Degabriele had a good chance to score after collecting a superb pass from Domoraud but he smashed his shot wide.
Valletta did have their moments. Eslit Sala could not keep his header on target after a good cross from Haris Dilaver.
Hibernians looked in control, restricted Valletta to a single opportunity and were full value for their lead until Dimech struck 11 minutes from time.
The substitute ran on to Curjuric’s perfect pass and fired pass a startled Ibrahim Kone to send the Valletta supporters wild in celebration.
Source: Times of Malta
VALLETTA: A. Guarnone-, J. Borg (59 C. Gauci-5), R. Camilleri, T. Caruana, J. Arthur, H. Dilaver, I. Curjuric, R. Muscat (75 S. Dimech), E. Sala, M. Fontanella, K. Tulimieri ( 67 L. Campos).
HIBS: I. Kone, L Almeida, Raphael, J Grech (89 A. Attard), J. Degabriele, B. Kristensen, D. Vella, Thaylor (90 F. Mensah), A. Agius, G. Artiles, W. Domoraud.
Scorers: 36′ J. Grech (H), 79′ S. Dimech (V)
Referee: M. Degabriele
Yellow Cards: Thaylor, L. Almeida (H), I. Curjuric, R. Camilleri (V)
Man of the Match: Jake Grech (H)