Day 21 Valletta 1 Balzan 2
Valletta missed the chance to narrow the gap on leaders Hibernians after going down 2-1 to a spirited Balzan team this afternoon.
Hibernians’ 1-1 draw with Mosta yesterday had presented Valletta with an opportunity to trim the deficit to 11 points but the champions were a disjointed lot in contrast with Balzan whose resilience and tactical organisation was rewarded with a famous victory over one of the most illustrious clubs in Maltese football.
Balzan shocked Valletta after taking a ninth-minute lead. A dangerous run by Valletta winger Hamza Barry was stopped by the Balzan defenders and, from the ensuing clearance, the ball landed at the feet of Bojan Kaljevic just past the halfway line. The Montenegrin striker advanced unimpeded before lifting the ball past the on-rushing Nicky Vella and into the far corner.
It took Valletta a while to recover from this setback. On 16 minutes, captain Ryan Fenech made headway through the middle but his drive rolled past the upright.
A brilliant solo move from Fenech got Valletta back on level terms on 26 minutes. Recovering possession in the inside-right channel, the City captain swept past Samir Arab and Terence Agius as he darted into the box before slotting the ball through Steve Sultana, the Balzan goalkeeper.
Valletta were now expected to raise the pressure but their chaotic efforts were easily withheld by Balzan.
The Reds created an good chance when Kaljevic passed to Dylan Grima on the left and the Balzan captain delivered a cross that Caruana only managed to clear into the path of Gianmarco Piccioni but the Italian’s volley was high and wide.
Early in the second half, Valletta’s Ian Azzopardi was booked for tripping Kaljevic close to the touchline. Justin Grioli’s free-kick from the right was partially cleared by the Valletta defenders but Piccioni sent his shot over the bar.
Sultana, the Balzan goalkeeper, then blocked Fenech’s grounder from outside the penalty area.
Ivan Zammit, the Valletta coach, brought on striker Lateef Elford-Alliyu for Llwelyn Cremona.
Midway into the second half, Nafti passed to Elford-Alliyu who ran past Clive Brincat before putting in a cross-shot that was cleared away for a corner by Arab.
Balzan refused to lie down. They quickly issued a reminder of their attacking abilities as Kaljevic freed Guerrero inside the box but the latter’s cut-back found no takers.
With 17 minutes left, Balzan struck thanks to Piccioni whose perfectly-struck volley gave Vella no chance.
Valletta looked stunned. Fenech, their best player, had a central header saved by Sultana and, 10 minutes from time, Elford-Alliyu’s goal was ruled out for offside.
Valletta were unlucky not to equalise as Fenech’s piledriver from the edge of the box rattled the crossbar.
In the dying stages, Serrano stopped a shot by Elford-Alliyu while, at the other end, Guerrero rifled wide from inside the box.
Sultana snuffed out Valletta’s hopes when pushing away Bajada’s inswinging cross from a corner.
Kaljevic, the Balzan forward, was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – N. Vella, R. Camilleri, H. Barry, J. Caruana, I. Azzopardi, A. Nafti (I. Hilary), L. Cremona (L. Elford), L. Dimech, R. Briffa, D. Leeflang (S. Bajada), R. Fenech.
BALZAN – S. Sultana, J. Grioli, D. Grima (L. Micallef), S. Arab, E. David Bilbao, T. Agius, B. Kaljevic, O. Alvarado (L. Sciberras), C. Brincat, G. Piccioni (R. Darmanin), E. Valero.
Date: 01.02.15 Time: 16:00 Venue: National Stadium
Scorers: 9′ B. Kajlevic, 73′ Piccioni (B), 26′ R. Fenech (V)
Yellow Cards: R. Fenech, I. Azzopardi, L. Dimech (V) B. Kaljevic, G. Piccioni (B)
Man of Match: B. Kaljevic (B)
Referee: C. Lautier