Day 29: Valletta 1 Floriana 0
Valletta maintained their recent dominance over rivals Floriana after an early goal from defender Luke Dimech gave them a 1-0 win in today’s derby.
The resurgent Floriana piled up the pressure in the second half as they chased an equaliser but Valletta were solid at the back with Steve Borg and goalkeeper Pietro Marino turning in excellent performances.
With this win, Valletta leapfrogged Birkirkara into second place, six points behind leaders Hibernians who are playing Sliema Wanderers in today’s second game.
The first half was a tense affair marred by heated exchanges between players and staff from both teams.
Valletta had made a great start, taking the lead inside two minutes.
Abdelkarim Nafti’s inviting cross from a free-kick sailed towards the far post where Valletta defender Luke Dimech anticipated everyone to hit past Matthew Calleja Cremona at the far post.
On 12 minutes, Barbeno issued a yellow card to Nafti after the Tunisian clashed with Floriana coach Giovanni Tedesco.
For a moment, confusion reigned on the pitch as both sets of players and officials joined in the melee before calm was restored.
There was another tense moment when Valletta’s Roderick Briffa went in heavily on Floriana’s Amadou Samb after the latter appeared to have hit Ian Azzopardi in the face as the two contested possession.
As the first half moved on, Floriana improved but their efforts were neutralised by the Valletta defenders.
Steve Pisani had a dipping cross-shot saved by Valletta goalkeeper Pietro Marino and, before the end of the first half, City defender Jonathan Caruana deflected Matteo Piciollo’s effort away for a corner.
The game was short on goalmouth action for much of the first 15 minutes of the second half.
With 13 minutes remaining, Valletta missed a great chance to seal the win as Nafti released Fenech in the box but the Valletta captain’s effort was saved by Calleja Cremona.
The game became more lively with Valletta goalkeeper Marino beating away a dangerous drive from Igor Coronado, a second-half substitute.
Nafti, breaking on the counter, showed some excellent footwork as he raced forward but his weak lob was easily stopped by the Floriana goalkeeper who, minutes later, blocked a close-range attempt from Barry.
Scoring opportunities were now coming thick and fast. Marino twice rescued Valletta, first by saving Coronado’s free-kick and then by stopping a menacing shot from Piciollo who had veered into the box from the left.
The Greens, with a hostr of forwards in their team, were now pushing for an equaliser. A low effort from Piciollo was deflected into the path of Coronado inside the box but the latter’s effort was repelled by the excellent Borg.
Three minutes from the end, Floriana thought they had equalised when Marcelina’s cross from midfield appeared to come off substitute Giovanni Galea but the goal was disallowed after the Floriana striker was adjudged to have pushed Dimech.
Barbeno’s decision angered Floriana, particularly Piciollo who was sent off after passing a disparaging remark at the referee.
Borg, the Valletta defender, was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – P. Marino, H. Barry, J. Caruana, I. Azzopardi (R. Camilleri), A. Nafti, I. Hillary, R. Briffa, L. Dimech, S. Borg, R. Fenech (H. Al Kamali) , L. Elford (L. Cremona)
FLORIANA: M. Calleja Cremona, E. Marcelina, S. Pisani, V. Plut, M. Piciollo, E. Briffa (G. Galea), A. Samb (I. Coronado), B. Farrugia (S. Borg), G. Muir, S. Bonnici, M. Micallef.
Scorers: 2′ L. Dimech
Yellow Cards: K. Nafti, P. Marino, L. Dimech, I. Hillary, H. Barry (V) M. Micallef, S. Pisani (F)
Red Cards: M. Piciollo (F)
Man of Match: S. Borg (V)
Referee: L. Barbeno (SMR)