Day 31: Valletta 0 Bkara 0
The title race remains wide open as Valletta were held to a goalless draw by Birkirkara to move one point clear of second-placed Hibs at the top.
While the result looks disappointing for Valletta, they were relieved to come out of this test with a point in the bag after goalkeeper Henry Bonello made two vital saves in the closing stages to deny the much-improved Birkirkara who were themselves looking to get back into contention for the title.
This game drew a large crowd to the National Stadium with both sets of fans clearly intent on supporting their teams in this crucial game.
Birkirkara were first to settle.
Ryan Scicluna advanced on the left before sending in a dipping cross that flew across the penalty area and into the path of Frank Temile whose lofted effort was pushed away by the towering Henry Bonello.
At the other end, Abdelkarim Nafti did well to run into the box from the left but his cross was blocked by Miroslav Kopric, the Birkirkara goalkeeper.
Valletta were then unlucky not to take the lead as Jhonnattann’s piledriver came off the crossbar.
On 20 minutes, it was Birkirkara who threatened again.
Christian Bubalovic’s long ball was collected by Vito Plut who somehow forced his way into the box, prompting goalkeeper Bonello to come out of goal but the Slovenian darted past him only for his effort to be deflected away for a corner.
There was another chance for Birkirkara when, from a throw-in, Scicluna supplied another menacing cross into the goalmouth but Goran Mujanovic failed to make contact with the ball.
Valletta struggled for fluency but they created a fine move when Nafti swapped passes with Roderick Briffa and dashed into the box to receive the return pass but his effort went wide.
Valletta were finding it hard to get their forwards into positions where they could put pressure on the Birkirkara defenders but they did manage to create a flowing move nine minutes from half-time.
Minutes later, Kopric had to dive to his left to save Nafti’s high-riser.
With three minutes left for the end of the opening half, Jhonnattann picked out Nafti with a perfect cross but the latter’s weak header was off target.
The second half was off to a scrappy start.
Birkirkara’s Mujanovic swept past two defenders as he veered infield from the left but his weak drive was easily saved Bonello.
Just past the hour mark, Zammit made his first substitution, throwing on Michael Mifsud for Nafti who was clearly upset by the change, so much so that he headed straight to the tunnel.
Mifsud’s first intervention was to set off on a surging run on the right but his shot was deflected away for a corner.
Midway into the second half, Valletta should have scored when Cremona combined with Jhonnattann to set up Falcone who ran unimpeded into the box only to arrow his shot wide.
The game came to life in the final stages.
The Whites were rescued by the woodwork as Temile, breaking forward on the counter, slipped a through-ball to Plut who held off Cruz Gill but his effort flashed against the far post.
Ledesma’s free-kick took a deflection which sent the ball sailing towards Kopric but, from the ensuing counter-attack, Birkirkara almost struck only for Plut to be denied by another excellent save from Bonello. The loose ball squirmed into the path of Agius but his drive was deflected over the bar.
Mauricio Mazzetti, the Birkirkara defender, was named BOV player of the match.
Source – timesofmalta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, F. Falcone (R. Ledesma), J. Benites, J. Gill Cruz, R. Briffa, A. Nafti (M. Mifsud) , L. Cremona (J. Borg), I. Azzopardi , U. Calistus, C. Pani, R. Camilleri.
BIRKIRKARA. – M. Kopric, C. Bubalovic, M. Mazzetti, C. Attard, M. Kovic, J. Zerafa, G. Sciberras, R. Scicluna (E. Agius), F. Temile, M. Goran (R. Camenzuli), V. Plut.
Yellow Cards: J. Cruz, M. Mifsud, U. Calistus (V), C. Attard, M. Mazzetti, J. Zerafa (B)
Man of Match: M. Mazzetti (B)
Referee: Alan Mario Sant