Matchday 15: Valletta 2 Sliema W 1
After grabbing a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw against Sta Lucia, the Citizens’ priority going into their tricky match with Sliema was to rediscoiver their winning touch.
Their need to emerge with three points was aided by Sliema’s unorthodox holding tactics which helped Valletta produce the desired pickings as they won 2-1.
Yet, cohesion was missing from Valletta’s play yesterday as the Lilywhites harboured to carve open the Sliema defence as their two second half goals owed much to the Blues’ defensive mistakes.
Before kick-off, Valletta defender Jean Borg was presented with a commemorative shirt on his 100th league appearance in a City shirt.
Ryan Camilleri, Shaun Dimech and Matteo Piciollo started the game for Valletta who had goalkeeper Yenz Cini deputising for Henry Bonello and his young brother Reeves Cini on the bench.
Antonio Stelitano and Arthur Oyama were detailed to push up high on the wings in a ‘V-shape’ configuration with Kurt Shaw, Jonathan Pearson and Goran Adamovic forming a three-man defence in a seemingly shut-up shop 5-3-2 formation.
The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of Josie Urpani, the former Valletta player who passed away yesterday.
Sliema’s cautious approach encouraged Valletta to take the initiative which they duly did. But for all their possession, Valletta were finding it hard to create openings.
On the other hand, Sliema threatened sporadically on the counter. On one occasion, after 12 minutes, Juri Cisotti glided past his marker but shot wide.
Sliema looked vulnerable on the flanks and had it not been for their goalkeeper Entonjo Elezaj, Valletta would have opened the score on 38 minutes. Miguel Alba advanced through the middle before laying the ball to the overlapping Enmy Pena Beltre whose cross from the right rolled dangerously in the box but the Italian goalkeeper came quickly off his line to pluck the ball from Mario Fontanella’s feet.
Two minutes into the second half, Pena Beltre supplied another inviting cross towards Fontanella but his header was too weak to quicken Elezaj’s pulse.
On 55 minutes, Dimech’s speculative shot took a wicked bounce in front of Elezaj but he leapt to his right to palm away the midfielder’s effort.
Bojan Kaljevic was waiting on the touchline to replace Alba when the Argentine winger squared the ball for Rowan Muscat who squeezed the ball under the diving Elezaj and into the low corner.
Darren Abdilla still tried to shake off his team’s inertia with a double substitution as youngster Nicholas Pulis also came in with Kaljevic for Jonathan Caruana.
Five minutes from time, Oyama was at fault as his short backpass left the way clear for Fontanella who had an easy job placing the ball over Elezaj.
Sliema revived their hopes when Cisotti was floored in the box by Borg and Vasilchik scored from the ensuing penalty kick.
The Blues’ reaction was so sterile that at the other hand, Elezaj had to make a timely save on Dimech after he retrieved possession in his own half and embarked on a dazzling run through the middle before coming face-to-face with the goalkeeper.
VALLETTA: Y. Cini, J. Caruana (N. Pulis), R. Camilleri, M. Piciollo (S. Malano), S. Dimech, J. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, R. Muscat, M. Alba, T. Caruana, M. Fontanella (B. Kaljevic).
SLIEMA W.: E. Elezaj, A. Stelitano, K. Shaw, J. Pearson (P. Xuereb), M. Scerri, F. Vasilchik, C. Zappa (A. Satariano), J. Cisotti, E. Agius, A. Oyama, G. Adamovic.
Yellow Cards: E. Agius (S)
Scorers: 60′ R. Muscat, 85′ M. Fontanella (V), 88′ F. Vasilchik (S)
BOV Player of the Match: E. Pena Beltre (V)
Referee: G. Tonna