Matchday 16: Valletta 0 Birkirkara 1
Birkirkara survived a bruising encounter on Friday as a late Alessandro Coppola goal earned them a hard-fought victory over rivals Valletta.
Valletta will have their regrets, given that despite Birkirkara’s dominance, the Stripes struggled to create goal-scoring chances.
The Lilywhites got numbers behind the ball and looked to have achieved their objective of a draw before the defender’s goal. But Coppola scored with a weakly hit header from a few metres out after the ball fell to him at a corner.
The rivalry that lit up Maltese football in the new millennium and beyond, has lost much of its attraction this season, nonetheless, these rivals regarded this match as decisive in their bid to attain their redefined aspirations – both seeking to find some consistency and stability after their late struggles.
Valletta hampered by injuries to influential midfield lynch-pin Brandon Paiber and in-form striker Federico Falcone, left coach Vincenzo Potenza pondering to come up with the right solutions.
Former Birkirkara striker Jhonnattann, on his third spell with the Lilywhites, was detailed to play wide on the left in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
New Birkirkara coach Jose Borg restored Paul Mbong and Maxuell Maia to his starting line-up at the expense of Alexander Satariano and top-scorer Andrei Ciolacu respectively.
Valletta’s pressure and positional discipline proved a tough challenge for the Stripes who rarely provided the guile and invention to show they could break down their opponents.
During the opening spell, Valletta’s defence was at its most robust. Colombian defender Juan Bolanos, who thrived on physical confrontation, finished with a heavy bruise under his left flank after he tried to tame Maia.
The Stripes dominated their opponents with no-nonsense and hard-tackling in midfield with Ali Diakite the standout performer. Both goalkeepers were hardly in action during the opening period before Alessandro Guarnone was eventually tested after 37 minutes. The Italian custodian spread himself to block an acute-angled shot from Edward Sarpong before Alessandro Coppola hit a rising shot over the bar.
Valletta started the second half with a strong sense of determination but rarely troubled Marcel Zapytowski between the Birkirkara’s goalposts. Valletta’s best chance came after Neil Micallef conceded a free-kick on the right flank for a foul on Vitor Filho. Shaun Dimech curled a right-foot strike around the far post.
Borg felt his side needed extra attacking impetus to break down what was becoming a rearguard action from Potenza’s side. He responded by sending on Omar Elouni, Ciolacu, and Satariano.
And Birkirkara finally got their breakthrough in the dying minutes. Micallef swung in a corner from the right, Valletta failed to clear and Alessandro Coppola was deadly with a downward header despite Alfred Silas’s desperate attempt to hook the ball off the line.
VALLETTA: A. Guarnone, J. Bolanos, E. Ruiz (84 M. Jezdimirovic), O. Barrientos, S. Dimech, G. Braganca (A. Silas), J. Azzopardi (C. Gauci), V. Filho, N. Micallef, Jhonnattann (K. Ewurum), D. Cardoso (P. Ohaka).
BIRKIRKARA: M. Zapytowski, E. Pepe, P. Mbong, A. Zammit (O. Elouni), K. Zammit, E. Pena Beltre, N. Micallef, A. Coppola, E. Sarpong (A. Ciolacu), A. Diakite, M. Maia (A. Satariano).
Scorers: A. Coppola (B).
Referee: Matthew De Gabriele.
Yellow card: Mbong, Coppola (B).