Day 23 Valletta 2 Zebbug 3
Valletta’s fading hopes of retaining the Premier League title have suffered a hammer blow after the champions were on the receiving end of a shock 3-2 defeat to relegation strugglers Zebbug Rangers.
Trailing Hibernians by eight points, Valletta had to win this game to stay in the race but they were overpowered by a determined Zebbug Rangers side who fully deserved their win.
While the Citizens were disjointed and lack inspiration for most of the game, the Rangers were lively and disciplined throughout with captain Mattias Muchardi driving them forward from the middle.
The Rangers were by far the more enterprising side in the first half as Valletta looked a pale shadow of their usual selves.
Brazilian striker Mauricio Britto had an effort saved by Valletta goalkeeper Pietro Marino and, at the other end, Jonathanm Caruana skewed his shot after getting on the end of Abdelkarim Nafti’s left-wing cross.
Ryan Fenech was narrowly wide from outside the penalty area but the Citizens could not get going.
The Rangers remained dangerous on the counter as Britto hit a curling drive that sailed past the far post. Zebbug took the lead on 25 minutes courtesy of Matias Muchardi whose swinging corner from the left caught Marino by surprise.
Nine minutes from the end of the first half, Bartolo, one of three on-loan Valletta players in the Rangers’ selection, effected a good save to push away Nafti’s spinning free-kick. From the corner, taken by the Tunisian winger, the ball reached Azzopardi at the near post but the City left-back hit wide.
On the brink of half-time, Nafti advanced through the middle but his shot was blocked by Bartolo. From the ensuing attack, Zebbug doubled their lead.
Valletta were again caught off balance at the back as Montebello’s pass from the right rolled into the box, Luke Dimech’ miscued his clearance and Yussuff was on hand to fire past Marino.
Llywelyn Cremona came on for Lateef Elford-Alliyu at the start of the second half as Valletta coach Ivan Zammit changed to a three-man defence.
Six minutes into the second half, Valletta were unlucky not to pull one back as Caruana aimed a pass to Barry who had drifted in from the right but the Gambian’s grounder was off target.
Dutch forward Djamel Leeflang then replaced Azzopardi. The champions were back in contention on the hour thanks to Fenech whose superb shot from the distance gave Bartolo no chance.
Bartolo stopped Bajada’s grounder but, on 65 minutes, Rangers re-established their two-goal lead. Muchardi was the provider as his pass through the middle released Montebello who rifled his shot past Marino.
Bajada went close to reducing the deficit for Valletta but his curling cross-shot, from a corner, flashed against the woodwork.
A mistake by Borg almost handed Zebbug a fourth goal as the Malta defender was dispossessed by Montebello who quickly passed to Britto but his low shot was parried away by Marino.
Valletta missed a great chance to narrow the gap 17 minutes from time as Borg drifted in from the right before hitting a cross-shot that glanced off Leeflang with the ball dropping wide of the far post. With seven minutes left, the Citizens revived their hopes when youngster Kurt Borg, who had replaced Dimech, headed home from Barry’s corner.
The Whites ramped up the pressure. Bajada was first to Nafti’s free-kick but his shot came off the side-netting.
Muchardi was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – P. Marino, R. Camilleri, H. Barry, J. Caruana, L. Elford (L. Cremona), I. Azzopardi (D. Leeflang), A. Nafti, S. Bajada, L. Dimech (K. Borg), S. Borg, R. Fenech.
ZEBBUG R. – M. Bartolo, J. Borg, P. Barbetti, M. Muchardi, Y. Camilleri, R. Yussuff, M. Rodrigues Britto, D. Reano, T. Paris (K. Zammit), L. Montebello (M. Ciantar).
Date: 21.02.15 Time: 14:00 Venue: Hibs Stadium
Scorers: 26′ M. Mucahrdi, 46′ R. Yussuff, 64′ L. Montebello, 60′ R. Fenech, 83′ K. Borg (V)
Yellow Cards: R. Yussuff, K. Zammit (Z), R. Camilleri. L. Cremona (V)
Man of Match: M. Muchardi (Z)
Referee: T. Farrugia Cann