Matchday 11: Valletta 2 Santa Lucia 0
Valletta took a deserved three points at a weathered Tony Bezzina stadium after heavy rainfall on Saturday with goals from Andrea Zammit and Brandon Paiber on either side of the half.
Seven points separated the two sides before the match despite Valletta being just two spots ahead in the standings. The fixture was of significant importance for both sides with Santa Lucia having gained just five points in their last five matches, while Valletta were hoping to continue their positive run after two consecutive wins.
Santa Lucia coach Enzo Potenza made three changes from his first outing last week in a 1-0 loss to Floriana, starting Michael Johnson, Jamie Carbone, and Miguel Alba in place of Zvi Jie, Diego Pacheco, and Liam Blie. As for Valletta, coach Thane Micallef gave the nod to Triston Caruana and Zammit who replaced Jean Borg and Shaun Dimech after the side’s 3-0 win over Zebbug Rangers.
After a cautious start for both sides which saw just one attempt from each team in the first five minutes, Paiber fired the first real chance at goal on eight minutes, but goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona pushed the ball into a corner.
The Saints goalkeeper nearly regaled a goal to Valletta just a minute later, dropping the ball inside his area only to be saved by his defence after losing sight of the ball behind him.
The Valletta wall was vital to stop a low a Nicholas Pulis freekick on 13 minutes as Santa Lucia began to gain traction.
24 minutes in, Valletta got a deserved lead through Zammit. A smart throughball from Enmy Pena Beltre to Caruana led to a low cross that Calleja Cremona could not hold onto, the ball drifting to the unmarked Zammit who fired into the net.
Meghon Valpoort troubled Valletta shotstopper Alessandro Guarnone with eight minutes to go in the half but Santa Lucia were struggling and looked disjointed while Valletta grew in confidence.
After the break, Valletta were close to scoring their second goal after just five minutes when Oke Akpoveta swerved past two defenders on the left, but his effort ricocheted off a defender and Kilian Bevis’s rebound was too easy for Calleja Cremona.
At the other end, Guarnone stretched to push away a Santa Lucia effort which deviated off Sala on 54 minutes.
Ryan Camilleri could have given Santa Lucia a way back into the game on 70 minutes as his attempt to clear a Valpoort effort with a header was miscued and the ball rose above Guarnone – who was out of position – towards goal, sparing the Valletta captain’s blushes when it hit the netting above goal.
In need of an equaliser, Santa Lucia rallied forward but it was Valletta who profited from this as Paiber added another goal for Valletta on 81 minutes.
Amid the pressure of two Saints players, Caruana put in a cross into the area, and with no defender to mark Paiber, the Valletta midfielder fired into the bottom corner.
Condemned to another loss, Santa Lucia nearly conceded again when a minute from time, Pena Beltre put in a cross and Sala’s first-time effort went just wide.
Substitute Cheversan was close again in injury time but the Brazilian scuffed his chance with only Calleja Cremona to beat.
Source: Times of Malta, Photo credits: Times of Malta.
VALLETTA: A. Guarnone, R. Camilleri, T. Caruana, O. Akpoveta (J. Borg), A. Zammit (C. Gauci), E. Pena Beltre, B. Kamdem, B. Paiber, U. Nnomo (F. Cheveresan), K. Bevis (J. Willy), E. Sala.
SANTA LUCIA: M. Calleja Cremona, L. Soares Fonseca, M. Johnson, N. Pulis, R. Bairam (E. Serna), M. Valpoort (L. Mckay), D. Xuereb (R. Saito), J. Pisani, F. Farias, J. Carbone (J. Tanti), M. Alba.
Referee: I. Barbara
Yellow Cards: E. Pena Beltre, B. Paiber, E. Salal (V), M. Johnson, F. Farias, J. Carbone (V).
Scorers: 24′ A. Zammit, 82′ B. Paiber
Man of the Match: Brandon Paiber (V)