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Tuesday, December 30, 2014


The final double-header in this series, dating from season 2013-14 in Malta's BOV Premier League to be featured the contest between Rabat Ajax and Sliema Wanderers, but also a match of some relevance between Valletta and Balzan Youths. Both games took place on 8/2/14, and the latter fixture was the first to be played; the Victor Tedesco Stadium in Hamrun was the venue.
The final weekend of the regular season in the 2013-14 BOV Premier League campaign kicked off, not with Rabat Ajax versus Sliema Wanderers, but with Valletta taking on Balzan Youths, and also with HIbernians up against Naxxar Lions, with both games taking place simultaneously, due to Balzan and the Lions being in contention for the sixth and final spot in the championship pool, which forms the second and final part of the Maltese football season. Before both games commenced, Balzan, occupying sixth place were on 28 points with Naxxar a point behind.

The first ten minutes of the match saw some Valletta pressure, but the first real sniff of a chance fell the way of Balzan's Lydon Micallef in the 10th minute with a run and chip into the Valletta penalty-area, but the Citizens' goalkeeper Jonathan Caruana was alert to danger, intercepted the ball and sent it on its way downfield. The ball eventually made its way to Abdelkarim Nafti, who crossed to Hamza Barry, whose header from six yards out was acrobatically saved by Manuel Bartolo in the Youths' goal. 

The ball was promptly sent in the other direction via Lydon Micallef, where Pedro Dos Santos dispossessed Valletta defender Steve Borg some 25 yards form goal. The ball rolled to José Luis Armario Negrin, who rounded Caruana but lost his balance somewhat in doing so and shot wide. 

 UP IN THE AIR: Early pressure on the Valetta goal by the Balzan forward line (Balzan in pink and black)

Balzan looked dangerous three minutes later after good work from Armario Negrin, Dylan Grima and Justin Grioli led to the distinct possibility of a clear opportunity, but none of the three appeared willing to take a chance, and the moment was lost. Team-mate Edison David Bilbao did have a go from 20 yards two minutes after, but his low shot from 20 yards ghosted wide of Revishvili's left-hand post.

The next 20 minutes belonged almost exclusively to Valletta; Namza Barry was denied six yards out by a well-timed tackle by Godwin McKay, whilst Abdelkarim Nafti's attempt from the edge of the area went high and over Youths' keeper Bartolo's bar. 

With 22 minutes gone, Valletta fashioned the best move of the game up to that point as Steve Borg took the ball down the right wing and delivered a low cross, which was met some 14 yards out to the left of the penalty-spot by Hamza, whose sidefooter struck the outside of the base of Bartolo's left-hand post and went behind.

From then on until the half-time whistle, it was pretty much Valletta who dominated possession, though chances were few. Abdelkarim Nafti had a shot on goal which Bartolo saved easily, quickly followed by a dangerous Jean-Pierre Mifsud Triganza cross which was not picked up on by either defence or attack. To be fair, Edmond Agius was looking dangerous on the right for Valletta every time they moved forward. 

Mind you, Balzan did have their moments; Lydon Micallef was put through after a lovely pass from Dos Santos, and ran into the penalty-area, but dallied too long when he should have shot and was tackled just in time, which resulted in the ball going behind for a corner, which was easily dealt with by the Valletta defence. Micallef and Bilbao were going hammer-and-tongs at the Valletta defence every chance they got, but they did not receive the support needed to create sufficient chances. 

Micallef was laid out after a late challenge from Nafti, but was able to play on. Shortly afterwards, in the last minute of the first half, Mifsud Triganza was denied by what can only be described as a save bordering on the miraculous from Youths' 'keeper Bartolo, who flew across goal to keep out Mifsud Triganza's header from a little over six yards out. It had been a good display thus far from both sides, with a draw probably being the correct score at half-time, which would have pleased Balzan manager Jesmond Zerafa, especially as his team's opponents were his former charges, by whom he was sacked in 2012.

The first ten minutes of the second half were rather tranquil until Valletta captain Ryan Fenech was yellow-carded for a reckless foul on Grima. Bartolo was clattered a few minutes later at the edge of his area, and the first shot in anger in the second half came just after the hour from Micallef, whose free-kick was saved by Micallef.

 NO WAY THROUGH: Valletta's Shaun Bajada's run is thwarted by Balzan defenders Kurt Magro (on ground) and Justin Grioli; Luke Sciberras is on hand just in case..

Bilbao received a yellow card for a foul on Fenech, and Dos Santos joined him in the book seconds later after making a crude gesture towards the Valletta fans, who responded in kind. Fenech did the same towards the Balzan supporters not long after his booking, grabbing his crotch and doing the old heaving boobies gesture, for which he got the bird from the Balzan contingent, but no second yellow card was forthcoming from the ref.

Valletta were now in control as the clock ticked past 70 minutes, but chances were still few and far between. Abayoni Seun had a chance to put the Citizens into the lead in the 72nd minutes, but his looping header from just shy of the penalty-spot floated harmessly wide.

Magro earned himself a yelllow card for a high tackle on Abayoni Seun before Bartolo was able to wave at a Mifsud Triganza header from 15 yards out which went past his left-hand post. Downfield, Dos Santos beat two Valletta defenders and put a ball through in the direction of Bilbao, but Micallef was out in good time to smother the ball.

Abayoni Seun was increasingly causing worry in the Youths' defence, and his run and pass into the penalty area had his adversaries at sixes and sevens, but the ball was cleared. With ten minutes to go, a huge cheer erupted from among the contingent of Balzan supporters, who learned that Hibernians had scored against Naxxar Lions, thanks to a Obinna Obiefule header.

 CELEBRATIONS (PART 1): The Valletta players gather round goalscorer Aziz Corr Nyang; watching on are players from Sliema Wanderers, warming up for their match against Rabat Ajax

As it stood, Balzan were in the championship play-offs as long as Naxxar did not score, and their supporters cranked up the volume still further when information came through that Obiefule had scored a second for Hibs on 84 minutes.

However, the cheers had hardly died in the Balzan supporters' throats when, just seconds later, Corr Nyang gave the Valletta support something to cheer about: a sumptuous strike - after a solo run along the 18-yard line - which flew into the top right-hand corner of the net.

Five minutes of normal time remained, but both teams were now content just to play out the full 90 minutes. There was still time for the referee to write the names of Mifsud Triganza and Ramón Dos Santos in his notebook as the game entered injury-time. 

Any frayed nerves amongst those following the team playing in pink and black were soothed with news that Hibernians had scored a third goal against the Lions, Jurgen Degabriele doing the damage. Cue celebrations amongst the Balzan supporters and a place in the championship pool. Oh, and Valletta walked away with the three points, so everybody went home happy.

 CELEBRATIONS (PART 2): The Balzan team walk off to the acclaim of their supporters

VALLETTA: 2 Nukri REVISHVILI, 24 Jonathan CARUANA, 4 Steve BORG, 6 Ryan FENECH, 8 Edmond AGIUS (11 Luke MONTEBELLO), 9 Jean-Pierre Mifsud Triganza (23 Irakli MAISURADZE), 10 Roderick BRIFFA, 15 Owonikoko ABAYOMI SEUN, 16 Namza BARRY, 18 Shaun BAJADA, 30 Abdelkarim NAFTI (17 Aziz CORR NYANG)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 1 Yenz CINI (GK), 3 Ian AZZOPARDI, 21 Llewellyn CREMONA, 13 Dario TABONE

BALZAN YOUTHS: Emmanuel BARTOLO, 3 Ramón Dos Santos, 4 Justin GRIOLI, 5 Luke SCIBERRAS, 7 Lydon MICALLEF (99 Ryan DARMANIN), 8 Edison David BILBAO Zarate, 9 José Luis ARMARIO NEGRIN, 10 Dylan GRIMA, 16 Pedro Henrique DOS SANTOS Calcado, 17 Godwin McKAY (6 Furas ABOULEZZ), 19 Kurt MAGRO

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 29 Michael FALZON (GK), 13 Mark SPITERI, 50 Juan CORBALAN, 66 Charlie FULLER, 88 Gianfranco MICALLEF
THEN AND NOW: Valetta finished the regular season with 53 points, three behind Birkirkara. They went on to  win seven out of ten championship matches, drawing the other three. This was enough to see them crowned champions at the end of the season by a point from Birkirkara, whom they defeated 2:0 in a dramatic last game of the season on 26/4/14. They went on to achieve the double, defeating Sliema Wanderers 1:0 in the FA Trophy Final on 1/5/14.

This season, Valletta are, along with everybody else, a country mile behind Hibernians, and, at the time of writing, have lost 5 out of 16 matches, although they find themselves in second place, in front of Birkirkara by goal difference. They hammerered Birzebugga St. Peter's 7:1 in the third round of the Maltese FA Trophy, and will be up against Sliema's "other" team, Melita, in the fourth round.

Balzan did not have a good time of it at all in the championship pool; out of ten games, their only win came against Sliema Wanderers, who beat them on penalties in the fourth round of the FA Trophy. They drew one game and lost the rest. 

They currently lie in fourth place in the table this time round, but are nine points behind Valletta and Birkirkara. Balzan defeated Kirkop United 2:0 in the third round of this season's FA Trophy, and have been drawn against third-level Zabbar St. Patrick in the fourth round. All matches in the fourth round are scheduled to take place on 17/1/15 or 21/1/15.

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