Matchday 12: Valletta 2 Zejtun 1
A silver lining in the shape of a victory over Żejtun, stood out like a beacon among the dark clouds currently hovering over Valletta.
Granted, it was not a composed performance by a depleted Valletta side but in terms of character and determination to keep their colours flying high, Gilbert Agius’s players definitely deserved praise for their showing.
Substitute Rowen Muscat scored an injury-time winner to shatter Żejtun, who had a numerous occasions to take the game away from their opponents.
Shorn of six key players through injury, namely Henry Bonello, Jean Borg, Matteo Piciollo, Jonathan Caruana, Enmy Pena Beltre and Kyrian Nwoko, Gilbert Agius must have been heartened by the return of Joseph Zerafa, Santiago Malano and Muscat, albeit the latter was only fit to start on the bench.
Żejtun were boosted by the return of Gianluca Bugeja and Ricardo Faria who missed the 2-0 win over Lija Athletic.
Agius was forced into an early substitution as Taisei Marukawa’s participation was curtailed by a hamstring injury. Shawn Dimech came on for the Japanese winger and stationed on the left flank.
The Citizens opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Dimech, Malano and Leandro Aguirre operating behind Mario Fontanella.
Żejtun went nearest to forging ahead after 17 minutes when the quick-thinking Faria slid a low pass towards Vieira who sped his way through only to see Yenz Cini block his effort.
Few minutes later, Fontanella was through after a clever Ivan Requena pass. The Italian striker rounded the onrushing Christian Cassar but hit the side-netting from an angled position.
Żejtun’s response was almost immediate as Anderson exchanged the ball with Kemar Reid before his cross flashed across the face of goal with Vieira sliding in a fraction too late.
After 36 minutes, Valletta lost a second player through injury when Ryan Camilleri limped off. His place was taken by Miguel Alba as Eslit Sala dropped back to form a central parternship with Triston Caruana.
In the second period, Żejtun were exploiting more the space which the leaden-footed Valletta defenders were allowing them. Both Josè Gomes and Vieira went close after two excellent moves but on both occasions, Cini pulled off remarkable saves.
Żejtun looked in better shape but Valletta managed to break the deadlock on 55 minutes. Fontanella pounced on Lucas Moreira’s hesitancy in defence, veered to the left and hit the ball past a helpless Cassar.
However Valletta’s joy was short-lived as Żejtun equalised immediately. Thiago Bonfim hit the ball from the right towards the unmarked Vieira whose well-placed header beat Cini all the way.
The onus was mainly on Valletta to go for enterprise.
Yet, it was Vieira again who tried to puncture the Lilywhites’ rearguard when he ran onto a ball by substitute Adrian Carabott but the Brazilian striker hit it well over the bar in front of a gaping goal.
Six minutes from time, Fontanella let fly a curling drive but Cassar wass equal to task.
Valletta survived a mighty scare at death with Carabott putting the ball in the net only to be adjudged to be in an offside position.
Yet there was time for more drama and it was substitute Rowen Muscat who received the ball from Aguirre before curling in a low shot to the delight of the City clan.
VALLETTA: Y. Cini, R. Camilleri (M. Alba), T. Caruana, S. Malano, R. Fenech (I. Micallef), J. Zerafa, E. Sala, I. Requena (R. Muscat ), L. Aguirre, M. Fontanella, T. Marukawa (S. Dimech).
ZEJTUN C.: C. Cassar, L. Moreira, K. Reid, T. Bonfim, C. Grech, G. Bugeja, F. Gomes (A. Carabott), V. Vieira, R. Faria (D. Agius), N. Tabone, A. De Barros.
Referee: M. Spiteri
Scorers: 56′ M. Fontanella, 94′ R. Muscat (V), 60′ V. Viera (Z)
Yellow Cards: L. Aguirre (V), A. De Barros (Z)
BOV Player of the Match: V. Viera (Z)