Day 17: Valletta 2 Naxxar 1
Two goals in the last six minutes averted what would have been a shock defeat for leaders Valletta as they beat strugglers Naxxar Lions 2-1.
The Lions produced a resilient performance, clearly bolstered by their early lead, but the dismissal of Angus Buhagiar undermined their efforts as Valletta somehow managed to find a way through the opposing defence to restore their three-point lead over Hibernians at the top.
Valletta saw more of the ball in the first half but it was Naxxar who went in for the break leading 1-0.
The Lions, second from bottom in the standings, struck on 26 minutes through youngster Duane Bonnici who pushed the ball home from close in after Demba Toure’s angled shot was partially saved by Nicky Vella, the Valletta goalkeeper.
Earlier, Valletta had had a great chance to open the scoring on six minutes.
Jhonnattann darted past Naxxar goalkeeper Pecorella as he ran on to Roderick Briffa’s pass but the Brazilian ran himself in a wide position. He passed the ball back to Abdelkarim Nafti who fired over.
Pecorella had earlier blocked a shot from Jhonnattann and, from the rebound, Nafti hit the crossbar.
Before the end of the first half, Pecorella pushed away Nafti’s free-kick and Jonathan Caruana hit wide amid the ensuing scramble.
Valletta regained the initiative at the start of the second half but Naxxar held firm.
Referee Philip Farrugia turned down Valletta’s penalty claims after substitute Jean
Pierre Mifsud Triganza’s pass looked to have hit Andrew Scicluna’s arm.
Federico Falcone headed over from Nafti’s free-kick and Briffa rifled wide from outside the box.
In an isolated Naxxar attack, Falzon’s low shot was easily stopped by Vella while, at the other end, Briffa’s run opened up the Lions defence before the Malta midfielder guided the ball to Jhonnattann in the box but the latter’s drive was kept out by Azzopardi.
Jhonnattann had another goalbound effort blocked by defender Andrew Scicluna and, moments later, the Brazilian was again denied by Azzopardi.
Twelve minutes from time, Naxxar were reduced to 10 men after Angus Buhagiar was sent off for a second caution.
Valletta equalised six minutes from time thanks to Falcone whose grounder from inside the box had the better of Azzopardi.
Naxxar had a great chance to restore their lead as Tasic’s cross, from a long-range free-kick, dropped to Toure who had been left completely unmarked but his well-struck volley brought a fine save from Vella.
The Lions paid dearly for this miss as, three minutes from the end, Valletta went ahead. Substitute Umeh Calistus played a crucial role as he drove to the byline from the left and his cross landed to substitute Jurgen Suda who blasted home.
In stoppage time, Naxxar were unlucky not to equalise as Jurgen Debono’s sizzling drive had the better of Vella but the ball crashed against the crossbar and landed on the goal-line.
Naxxar defender Scicluna was named BOV player of the match.
Source – Times of Malta
VALLETTA – N. Vella, J. Gill Cruz, R. Briffa, J. Borg (U. Calistus), J. Caruana, A. Nafti, R. Romao, F. Falcone, J. Benites, D. Balbinot (J. P. Mifsud Triganza), I. Azzopardi (J. Suda).
NAXXAR L. – L. Pecorella (J. Azzopardi), E. Hamutenya, D. Toure, D. Falzon (T. Sarina), D. Bonnici (M. Fenech), N. Tasic, J. Debono, I. Grech, D. Fenech, A. Buhagiar.
Scorers: 26′ D. Bonnici (N), 84′ F. Falcone, 88′ J. Suda (V)
Yellow Cards: I. Azzopardi, J. Suda (V), E. Hamutenya, A. Buhagiar, N. Tasic, I. Grech (N)
Red Card: A. Buhagiar (N)
Man of Match: A. Scicluna (N)
Referee: P. Farrugia