Day 27 Valletta 0 Birkirkara 0
The title race is still wide open after the top-of-the-table clash between champions Birkirkara and second-placed Valletta ended goalless.
A fiercely-contested encounter saw Birkirkara play the better football in the first half but their failure to turn their superior possession into goals dashed their hopes of taking three vital points as Valletta improved to share the exchanges after the change of ends.
The stalemate means that Birkirkara remain two points clear of Valletta with five matches to go, raising the prospect of a thrilling finale to the season as these two rivals are due to meet again on the final day of the season.
A vibrant atmosphere prevailed as thousands of fans flocked to the National Stadium to watch this top-of-the-table clash.
Birkirkara coach Paul Zammit handed a rare start to Frank Temile who replaced the suspended Ryan Scicluna.
Andre Paus, the Birkirkara coach, made two changes from the 2-0 win over Gzira United in the FA Trophy final, Irakli Maisuradze and Alan Da Silva Souza getting the nod ahead of Hamza Barry and Abdelkarim Nafti.
After a balanced start, Birkirkara gained the upperhand, their superior teamwork and non-stop movement causing endless problems to Valletta.
Jhonnattann’s free-kick, given for a handball by Irakli Maisuradze which may have been inside the box, dropped in the goalmouth, before the City defenders managed to clear.
On another occasion, Jhonnattann headed wide.
Birkirkara had a claim for a penalty when Haruna looked to have been pushed by Steve Borg who had lost possession to the Nigerian. Referee Alan Mario Sant waved play on, much to the frustration of the Birkirkara fans.
Birkirkara stayed on top, surging forward in waves as Valletta dropped deeper.
Three minutes past the half-hour, Nukri Revishvili produced a fine save to push Haruna’s angled drive around the post. The Nigerian then headed wide from Zach Muscat’s cross.
Nine minutes into the second half, Nikola Vukanac sent his header over the bar from Joseph Zerafa’s cross.
The Valletta coach made a double substitution 12 minutes into the second half, Barry coming on for Lateef Elford-Alliyu and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza taking the place of Fenech who took a knock in the first half.
Haber was called upon to stop Bajada’s low shot, from a free-kick given for Vukanac’s foul on Da Silva.
Deep into stoppage time, Agius did well to get behind Alejandro Mendoza to collect a pass from Da Silva but the Spanish defender recovered to deflect the Valletta midfielder’s drive away for a corner.
Haruna, the Birkirkara forward, was named BOV player of the match.
Source: times of malta
VALLETTA – N. Revishvili, J. Caruana, S. Borg, E. Agius, R. Fenech (J.P. Mifsud Triganza), R. Briffa, O. Reyes Sanchez, L. Elford Alliyu (H. Barry), A. Da Silva Souza I. Maisuradze, S. Bajada.
BIRKIRKARA – J. Haber, Z. Muscat, N. Vukanac, A. Mendoza, J. Zerafa, G. Sciberras, P. Fenech, H. Shola Shodiya (R. Seara), E. Herrera, J. Benites (K. Zammit), F. Temile (R. Camenzuli)
Date: 23.03.14 Time: 16:00 Venue: National Stadium
Yellow Cards: A. Da Silva Souza, E. Herrera, E. Agius.
Man of Match: Haruna Shola Shodiya (B)
Referee: Alan Mario Sant