Day 8: Valletta 3 Floriana 1
Valletta maintained their recent dominance over rivals Floriana after emerging 3-1 winner from their first-round meeting today.
All the action happened in the first half as Valletta raced into a two-goal lead only for Floriana to produce a bold reaction after Mario Fontanella reduced the deficit.
The Greens’ hopes rose when they awarded a penalty but when Matteo Piciollo’s drive was saved by Henry Bonello, the Valletta goalkeeper, their prospects of ending their long wait for a win over their rivals receded as Valletta struck again before half-time to all but seal the three points to reclaim second place behind leaders Balzan.
In the fourth minute, Jurgen Pisani’s powerful run took him past Ryan Camilleri but the Floriana wing-back’s low cross was intercepted by Cruz Gill.
Floriana’s pressing was troubling Valletta but they secured a boost in the shape of an opening goal after nine minutes.
Tunisian winger Abdelkarim Nafti played a key role as the Tunisian tricked his way past Emanuel Briffa as he raced into the box from the left before passing to Federico Falcone who drove the ball past Matthew Calleja Cremona.
The Greens’ reaction produced a low drive by Piciollo that was blocked by Henry Bonello.
At the other end, Nafti again made headway on the left before hitting a teasing cross that Jhonnattann headed wide.
For the second time in the opening 20 minutes, Floriana had the ball in the net but Matteo Piciollo, who had pounced on a loose ball, was offside when he drove his shot past Bonello.
The game remained balanced but Valletta were more dangerous in attack. Their fans were over the moon when Ian Azzopardi, a former Floriana player, met Jhonnattann’s set-piece cross from the right with a downward header that bounced past Calleja Cremona to give Valletta a 2-0 lead.
As the City supporters were celebrating the goal, a fight broke out in the section occupied by the Floriana fans.
It took the police a few minutes to restore calm.
Undeterred by the disturbances in the stands, the Floriana players surged forward in search of an equaliser.
Their hopes received a boost two minutes past the half-hour when Azzopardi floored Piciollo in the box and referee Philip Farrugia pointed to the spot. The Italian striker stepped up to take the spot-kick but his drive was pushed away by Bonello before the defenders cleared the ball away for a corner.
Bolstered by Bonello’s save, Valletta regained their focus. They threatened to restore their two-goal lead as Roderick Briffa released Falcone on the edge of the box but the Argentine’s curler was tipped over the bar by Calleja Cremona.
A minute from half-time, Valletta made it 3-1 thanks to Jhonnattann whose curling free-kick from just outside the box gave Calleja Cremona no chance.
The second half had only just started when Jhonnattann threatened to inflict more damage on Floriana but his cross-shot from the right came off the upright after taking a deflection.
A minute past the hour, Floriana coach Luis Oliveira effected his first change, bringing on Juninho Cabral for Steve Pisani.
The other Pisani in Floriana’s team, Jurgen, sent his half-volley over the bar after
Chiesa’s free-kick was partially cleared by Valletta. Bonello then stopped Fontanella’s weak strike.
There was little in the way of scoring chances in the second half as Valletta easily held off Floriana’s tame efforts to force their way back into contention.
The Citizens almost increased their lead 10 minutes from time when Briffa, dropped to right-back after Albert Bruce replaced Romeu Romao, swept into the box before setting up the Nigerian who fired over.
Briffa did likewise after another Jhonnattann progression down the right while, in stoppage time, Russell Fenech, who had come on for Jhonnattann, was foiled by Calleja Cremona after receiving from Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza, another second-half substitute.
Jhonnattann was named BOV player of the match.
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, R. Briffa, C. Pani, J. Cruz Gill, I. Azzopardi, Nafti (J.P. Mifsud Triganza), L. Cremona, R. Camilleri, F. Falcone, J. Benites (R. Fenech) , R. Romao (A. Bruce).
FLORIANA – M. Calleja Cremona, A. Monticelli, E. Pepe, S. Pisani (J. Cabral), C. Borg (Connor Borg), J. Pisani, A. Scozesse, M. Piciollo, E. Briffa, N. Chiesa, M. Fontanella.
Scorers: 9′ F. Falcone, 26′ I. Azzopardi, 45′ J. Benites (V), 28′ M. Fontanella (F)
Yellow Cards: I. Azzopardi (V), J. Pisani (F)
Man of Match: Jhonnattan Benites (V)
Referee: P. Farrugia