Matchday 05: Valletta 1 Santa Lucia 1
Valletta’s bid to close the gap with the Premier League front-runners hit a snag as the Citizens were held by Sta Lucia at the Hibs Stadium.
It looked as though Valletta were on their way to prevail in a low-key encounter when they led through an Emlit Sala first-half goal.
However, the Saints failed to throw in the towel and inspired by the continuous running of their forward trio of Kevin Ante Rosero, Alan da Silva Souza and Rei Tachikawa they piled up the pressure on the Valletta defence.
Their efforts were rewarded two minutes from time when Ante Rosero headed home the equalizer to earn a merited point for his team.
Valletta coach Jesmond Zerafa was again without several key players as Jonathan Caruana, Mihailo Jovanovic and Kyrian Nwoko failed to recover from injury with the Citizens forced to field their make-shift defensive partnership of Triston Caruana and Eslit Sala while Miguel Alba started on the right flankin support of lone striker Mario Fontanella.
Santa Lucia, on the other hand, had no selection problems as coach Oliver Spiteri fielded his strongest starting XI.
Valletta started brightly and after seven minutes Alba picked Santiago Malano inside the area and the Argentine saw his header tip over by goalkeeper Andreas Vella.
That turned out to be the only action of note for the first half hour as the match fell into a lull with action dominated with niggling foulsthat continuously hampered the flow of play.
Sta Lucia finally threatened on the half hour when Rei Tachikawa picked Michael Camilleri but his angled drive was blocked by Henry Bonello.
On 31 minutes, Tachikawa almost committed an own goal when he inadvertently deviated Alba’s cross towards his own goal with the ball skimming the upright.
A minute later, Alba again found Malano and the Argentine was unlucky to see his flick hitting the bar.
The stalemate was finally broken on 41 minutes when the Citizens were awarded a free-kick and Alba’s delivery was met by Sala who dived full stretch and head past Vella.
Sta Lucia almost hit back strongly as on the stroke of half-time Kevin Ante Rosero sent a cross towards Camilleri who looked odds on to score but was anticipated by a fine clearance from Joseph Zerafa.
After the interval, Valletta opted to administer more their advantage with the result that Sta Lucia tried to step up the pressure but they struggled to create any danger to Bonello in the Valletta goal.
Sta Lucia had a glorious chance to pull level on 74 minutes when in a quick break Ante Rosero played in Tachikawa who was denied by the onrushing Bonello. From the rebound, the ball fell to Alan Da Silva Souza who with an open goal in front of him incredibly fired over.
Three minutes later Jamie Zerafa fired over from just outside the area.
Sta Lucia’s persistence was rewarded two minutes from time when from a Leandro Motta corner-kick, Kevin Correia’s header came off the upright but from the rebound Ante Rosero headed home to earn his team a merited point.
VALLETTA: H. Bonello-6 T. Caruana, S. Malano, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, T. Marukawa (R. Fenech), E. Sala, N. Pulis (Taylon), R. Muscat, M. Alba (S. Dimech), M. Fontanella (R. Camilleri).
SANTA LUCIA: A. Vella, T. Tabone Desira, A. Prates, K. Correia, A. da Silva Souza, K. Ante Rosero, V. Prestes, M. Camilleri (62 L. Motta), J. Zerafa, R. Tachikawa, K. Xuereb (R. Camilleri).
Referee: D. Agius
Scorers: 41′ E. Sala (V), 88′ K. Ante Rosero (S)
Yellow Cards: N. Pulis, R. Muscat (V) J. Zerafa (S).
BOV Player of the Match: E. Sala (V)