Matchday 05: Valletta 2 Birkirkara 2
Valletta and Birkirkara traded four goals in a thrilling encounter at the National Stadium.
The first meeting between two teams who are expected to feature prominently in this season’s title race did not disappoint the sizeable crowd present as they produced a lively encounter which could have gone either way.
Valletta seemed to hold the upperhand for most of the match when twice managing to forge ahead but the Stripes, who are still seeking their first win after five matches, showed great fighting spirit and managed to claw themselves back into the match thanks mainly to their lively forward Henrique Caio who netted one goal and then procured the decisive penalty that helped his team avoid defeat against their fierce rivals.
The result left Valletta in the upper part of the standings on the nine-point mark, while Birkirkara remained second from bottom on three points.
Darren Abdilla, the Valletta coach, made two changes from the team that beat Balzan 2-0 last week as Brazilian midfielder Douglas Packer replaced Shaun Dimech while Yuri Messias was back in the starting formation at the expense of Rowen Muscat.
Birkirkara, on their part, made one change from the team that was held by Mosta last week as Maurizio Vella replaced Luis Edison who had to settle with a place on the bench while Miguel Alba started his first match against his former employers.
Valletta took just nine minutes to take the lead when referee Malcolm Spiteri adjudged that Cain Attard had passed the ball to goalkeeper Andrew Hogg after the latter had somewhat kept out Bojan Kaljevic’s shot and an indirect free-kcik was given from the small box. Kevin Tulimier laid up the ball to Steve Borg who saw his shot wriggle past a posse of defenders and beyond the goal line.
The goal hit hard the Stripes who struggled to create any sort of rhythm in their play and the closes they came was on 23 minutes when Ryan Feneech fed Henrique Caio who fired over.
Birkirkara had an even better chance just past the half hour mark when Caio outpaced Joseph Zerafa to surge inside the area and the Brazilian teed up Miguel Alba who incredibly miscued his backheel attempt in front of a gaping goal as the Citizens somehow survived.
Valletta should have doubled their lead ten minutes from half-time when Zerafa put Tulimieri in space on the right and the Italian opened to shoot on goal instead of serving the unmarked Kaljevic and Mario Fontanella with his effort fining wide.
The Citizens paid dearly for this miss as on 38 minutes Birkirkara drew level.
Ryan Fenech picked Maurizio Vella who quickly put Caio through and the Brazilian striker moved past Borg before chipping the ball over the onrushing Bonello.
Just before the interval, Valletta were forced to make a change as Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria pulled out injured and was replaced by Nicholas Pulis.
On the restart, Valletta tried to regain the initiative and they started to boss proceedings with their fast-flowing passing game. Their pressure yielded a second goal when Tulimieri chipped the ball towards the steaming Pena Beltre who headed past Hogg.
Birkirkara tried to claw themselves quickly into the match and on 65 minutes Caio came close to his second when he latched onto Alba’s delivery but the Brazilian made poor contact with the ball that drifted wide.
Caio was at it again on 67 minutes when he burst into the area and was pushed to the floor by Jean Borg with the referee pointing to the spot. Alba took charge of the kick and he dispatched his effort past his former team-mate Bonello to restore equilibrium.
Paus brought on Michael Mifsud for Alba and the Malta striker almost struck ten minutes from time but his thumping drive was pushed away by Bonello.
Bonello then denied another former Valletta player as Federico Falcone had an effort on goal but his rising shot was was again touched away by the Valletta no.1.
Henrique Caio of Birkirkara was named BOV Player of the Match
VALLETTA: H. Bonello, S. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa (R. Camilleri), M. Fontanella, K. Tulimieri, Y. Messias (S. Diemch), I. Dzaria (N. Pulis), B. Kaljevic, J. Borg, D. Packer.
BIRKIRKARA: A. Hogg, E. Pepe, M, Vella (E. Dos Santos), K. Zammit, R. Briffa, F. Falcone, R. Fenech, C. Attard, H. Caio, M. Carniello, M. Alba (M. Mifsud).
Scorers: 9′ S. Borg, 57′ E. Pena Beltre (V), 37. H. Caio, 69′ M. Alba (B)
Yellow Cards: S. Borg, K. Tulimieri, J. Zerafa, J. Borg (V), R. Fenech, R. Briffa, E. Pepe, M. Vella (B)
BOV Player of the Match: H. Caio (B)
Referee: M. Spiteri