Day 15 Valletta 1 Hibs 3
Hibernians all but wrapped up the league title today after defeating champions Valletta 3-1 to increase their lead at the top to 15 points.
It was an incredible match that saw Valletta take a deserved first-half lead only to lose the plot after having two players, Jonathan Caruana and captain Ryan Fenech, dismissed in the space of seven first-half minutes.
The Paolites, still unbeaten this season, had been low-key until then but with a two-man advantage on the pitch, they dominated the second half, scoring three goals to effectively end Valletta’s hopes of retaining the title.
In fairness, even with nine men, Valletta never threw in the towel but they were facing an impossible mission.
Valletta stormed into Hibs from the off but had to wait until the 17th minute to create the first chance.
Running on to Roderick Briffa’s inviting pass, Shaun Bajada held off his marker and supplied an inviting cross to Hamza Barry but the latter’s first-time volley was high.
A promising Hibs move saw Edison flick the ball to Jorginho who switched the ball to Clayton Failla. The latter’s cross was repelled by Valletta who were quick to drive forward on the counter.
Ryan Fenech, having exchanged passes with Briffa, advanced on the left and duly passed to Elford-Alliyu who evaded the challenge of Hibs defende Rui Da Gracia Gomes and goalkeeper Henry Bonello before hitting home.
Hibs almost grabbed an instant equaliser as Failla’s cross from a right-wing free-kick was dropped by Nicky Vella, the Valletta goalkeeper. A goalmouth scramble followed but Jorginho’s effort from inside the box was blocked.
The Citizens remained in control but they suffered an unexpected setback just past the half-hour as defender Caruana was shown a straight red card for raising his foot at Marcelo Dias after the City defender had been fouled by the Brazilian.
Luke Dimech replaced Nafti but before Valletta had time to settle, their afternoon took another negative twist.
Eight minutes of the first half remained when captain Fenech was sent off after earning a second booking for a late tackle on the advancing Dias.
On the stroke of half-time, Andrew Cohen was close with a rising shot after Valletta had partially cleared Failla’s free-kick.
Hibs equalised five minutes into the second half, Cohen lifting his shot over Vella after breaking into the box to pick up a loose ball.
Seven minutes later, Hibs went 2-1 up. Cohen again played a key role. The Hibs captain dribbled his way into the box before serving Jorginho who hit past Vella.
While Hibs remained in control, they hardly threatened to add to their lead.
Late in the game, Valletta won a free-kick but Briffa’s drive, from the distance, was high and wide.
In stoppage time, Hibs scored their third through Jorginho who drilled his shot through Vella’s legs after Valletta had left themselves exposed at the back.
Cohen, the Hibs captain, was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – N. Vella, R. Camilleri, S. Borg, H. Barry, L. Elford (H. Faria), R. Fenech, S. Bajada (L. Cremona), J. Caruana, I. Azzopardi, R. Briffa, A. Nafti (L. Dimech).
HIBS – H. Bonello, R. DE Gracia Gomes, R. Soares, M. Dias (J. Lima), A. Cohen (T. Tabone Desira), B. Kristensen, C. Failla, J. Bezzina (J. Bezzina), A. Agius, E. Luis Dos Santos, J. Periera da Silva.
Date: 14.12.14 Time: 16:00 Venue: National Stadium
Scorers: L. Elford (V), 51′ A. Cohen, 56′ 90′ J. Periera (H)
Yellow Cards: R. Fenech, S. Bajada, L. Dimech, R. Briffa (V) M. Dias, E. Luis Dos Santos, A. Agius, R. Soares (H)
Red Cards: 31′ J. Caruana, 37′ R. Fenech
Man of Match: Andrew Cohen (H)
Referee: Mario Apap