Day 28: Valletta 1 Naxxar L. 0
Abdelkarim Nafti scored at the death to give Valletta a 1-0 win over Naxxar Lions.
Naxxar, who were coming from three positive results, looked to have gained a point as the match entered stoppage time but their gallant efforts were undone by Nafti’s late strike as Valletta narrowed the gap on second-placed Birkirkara to one point.
Naxxar Lions produced the better chances in a balanced first half.
Valletta had gone close after 12 minutes when Abdelkarim Nafti’s cross-shot, from a corner, came off the far post.
It was then Naxxar who had a good chance when Gilmar played in Jorge from a free-kick but the Brazilian’s angled grounder was saved by Pietro Marino, the Valletta goalkeeper.
Midway into the first half, Julian Azzopardi, the Naxxar goalkeeper, made good saves, pushing away Nafti’s dangerous set-piece cross before blocking Caruana’s grounder in the same action.
Naxxar were quick to break on the counter through Gilmar who capitalised on a miscued pass from Hillary Ikenna to go clear, holding off Luke Dimech’s challenge before producing an angled effort that was blocked by Marino.
The Lions created another good move when Frank Temile advanced on the right before crossing for Jorge whose volley was kept out by Marino.
Three minutes from half-time, the erstwhile subdued Roderick Briffa made a fine run through the middle before switching the ball to Barry in the inside-right channel but the Gambian lifted his shot over the bar.
Valletta sought to raise their game after the change of ends but Naxxar refused to lie down.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, Gilmar allowed Toure’s cross from the right to roll to Terence Vella but the striker lifted his shot over the bar.
But the game’s best chance fell to Valletta close to the hour. Steve Borg’s cross from the right sailed dangerously towards the six-yard box but Cremona’s header, from point-blank range, dropped wide.
Valletta midfielder Hillary Ikenna weaved his way into the box but his grounder, from an angle, was blocked by Azzopardi.
The Naxxar goalkeeper then pushed away Nafti’s cross, from a left-wing corner, as the game moved into the final 15 minutes.
Naxxar almost broke the stalemate six minutes from time as Gilmar’s cross-cum-shot, from a free-kick, was flicked on by Angus Buhagiar but the ball hit the near post.
Nafti’s free-kick, from outside the box, rolled wide and the Tunisian then wasted an even better opportunity, failing to beat Azzopardi from close in after Caruana’s headed assist landed in his path.
Nafti atoned for this miss as, in stoppage time, he picked his spot, hitting a rising shot past Azzopardi after receiving from Briffa.
Naxxar’s Temile was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – P. Marino, H. Barry, J. Caruana, I. Azzopardi, A. Nafti, I. Hillary, R. Briffa, L. Cremona, S. Bajada (K. Borg) (D. Leeflang), L. Dimech, S. Borg.
NAXXAR: J. Azzopardi, A. Scicluna, I. Edet, F. Temile, T. Vella (D. Falzon), G. Da Silva Ribeiro, R. Cassar, D. Fenech, A. Buhagiar, J. Santos Silva (D. Toure), A. Bruce.
Scorers: 93 A. Nafti
Yellow Cards: R. Briffa (V) A. Scicluna (N)
Man of Match: F. Temile (N)
Referee: C. Lautier