Matchday 06: Valletta 1 Gzira U 3
Gżira United sent a huge statement of intent about their title ambitions after they brushed aside Valletta at the National Stadium.
Facing the Malta champions of the last two seasons, Gżira looked unfazed as they followed to perfection Giovanni Tedesco’s game plan to clinch an impressive victory that further cements their status as one of the leading challengers for this year’s title.
Valletta may have saw more off the ball for much of the opening hour but the Citizens struggled to make any inroads in solid Gżira rearguard.
On the other hand, the Maroons made the best from the speed and power of their forwards who each time they ventured forward they put the Citizens on the ropes with Amadou Samb giving them the lead with his first goal since returning from a serious injury before Jefferson helped himself to a well-taken brace to lift his team to third place in the standings on 10 points, one adrift of joint-leaders Ħamrun Spartans and Floriana.
Valletta coach Darren Abdilla rejuvenated his starting XI as defender Jonathan Caruana, midfielder Rowen Muscat and striker Matteo Piciollo were all handed a starting after they were not involved in the team’s 2-2 draw against Birkirkara last weekend. Joseph Zerafa, Kevin Tulimieri and Irakli Dzaria were the ones to make way in the City line-up.
Gżira on the other hand brought on Zachary Scerri for Clifford Gatt Baldacchino in the only change from the team that beat Balzan 2-0 last weekend.
The first 45 minutes saw both teams trying to impose their game with Valletta showing great desire to push forward but their poor distribution of the ball in the final third hurt their chances of causing any danger to Justin Haber in the Gżira goal.
At the other end, Gżira focused on quick forays through their pacey attacking trio of Hamed Kone, Amadou Samb and Jefferson.
After ten minutes, the Maroons were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the areana Kone’s effort just missed the bar.
On 21 minutes, Jefferson sped past Steve Borg but the Brazilian saw his low drive pushed away by the alert Henry Bonello.
The match entered into a lull with scoring chances few and far between.
But six minutes from the break, it was Gżira who lifted the game when taking the lead. Kone retrieved possession and put Amadou Samb clear. The Senegalese striker kept his poise to drill the ball past Bonello.
Valletta looked stunned and just before half-time Bonello had to dive full stretch to keep out Scerri’s shot.
Samb almost added a second on 51 minutes flew just over the bar with Bonello beaten.
Valletta’s reaction failed to materialise and Gżira grabbed a second goal on the shy of the hour mark.
Gianmarco Conti’s throughball found Jefferson who outmuscled Caruana before sliding the ball past Bonello.
Abdilla roped in Kevin Tulimieri and Kyrian Nwoko for Bojan Kaljevic and Douglas Packer in a bid to revive his team’s fortunes.
But it was Gżira who added a third goal on 68 minutes. Jefferson again beat the Valletta offside trap and after rounding Bonello he pushed the ball into an empty net.
Valletta looked distraught but straight from the kick off Fontanella somewhat gave them a lifeline when his thumping dive had the better of Haber.
The Gżira no. 1 then dived to his left to push away Tulimieri’s shot.
The Citizens laid siege to the Gżira fort in the closing minutes with Fontanella almost grabbing a second but was again denied by the Gżira goalkeeper.
Nikolai Muscat came to Gżira rescue five minutes from time when he cleared off the line Piciollo’s header.
On 88 minutes, Nwoko connected with Tulimieri’s cross but he headed just over as Gżira held on to a fine win.
VALLETTA: H. Bonello, S. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, M. Fontanella, Y. Messias (S. Dimech), B. Kaljevic (K. Nwoko), J. Borg, D. Packer (K. Tulimieri), R. Muscat, J. Caruana, M. Piciollo.
GZIRA U. : J. Haber, F. Barbosa, G. Conti, N. Muscat, Z. Scerri, R. Soares, H. Kone (A. Cohen), S. Borg, A. Samb, M. Davis, J. De Assis.
Scorers: 39′ A. Samb, 59′ 68′ J. De Assis (G), 69′ M. Fontanella (V)
Yellow Cards: R. Muscat (V)
BOV Player of the Match: J. De Assis (G)
Referee: T. Farrugia Cann