No joy for Miller as Hibs edge City
Mark Miller was the centre of attention yesterday as the English coach faced Hibs for the first time since leaving the FA Trophy winners to take over at Valletta, the Paolites’ fiercest adversaries.
Having made a low-key entrance into the Centenary Stadium, Miller left the pitch with the taunts and insults of the joyous Hibs fans ringing in his ears after the FA Trophy winners defeated Valletta 1-0 in an action-packed encounter.
High on confidence after their 5-0 drubbing of Birkirkara in their opening match, Hibs strengthened their chances of winning the Euro Cup thanks to yesterday’s victory which was made sweeter by the fact that it came at the expense of their bitter rivals and their former coach.
Early days these may be but the first pre-season meeting between these two rivals was a highly-entertaining affair with several chances created at either end of the field.
Although Hibs looked sharper on the ball and showed great resilience at the back, Valletta produced a creditable display but fluffed a host of scoring opportunities, including a second-half penalty as William Barbosa scuffed his shot over the bar.
Miller handed a debut to Dutch goalkeeper Andre Krul who is expected to turn out for the Citizens in the Champions League.
The City coach reshaped his formation as Michael Mifsud partnered Jhonnattann in attack, Jonathan Caruana flanked Jusselio in the heart of defence and Steve Borg started at right-back.
Hibs coach Michael Woods effected one change from the Birkirkara game, Marcelo Dias replacing young midfielder Johann Bezzina who was among the substitutes. Dias was deployed on the right wing of Hibs’ 4-2-3-1 formation with Jean Paul Farrugia, scorer of a hat-trick against Birkirkara, leading their attack.
Just over 30 seconds from the start of the game had elapsed when Andrew Cohen guided a through-ball to Farrugia but the Malta U-21 striker skewed his shot wide.
At the other end, Hibs goalkeeper Mario Muscat fumbled a shot by Michael Mifsud but to his relief, the ball flew wide.
The early exchanges were brisk. Krul effected his first intervention on six minutes, beating away Dias’s firm drive after the Brazilian had dispossessed Denni outside Valletta’s box.
The two teams continued to trade attacks. Muscat did well to parry away an effort from Mifsud who, on 12 minutes, squandered a glorious opportunity to put Valletta in front when lobbing the ball high and wide after being put through by Jhonnattann.
It was Hibs who broke the deadlock on 16 minutes, Farrugia slotting home from close range after Krul had partially saved Cohen’s grounder.
The early flurry of chances fizzled out as the first half moved on but, on 31 minutes, Valletta came close to an equaliser. Jhonnattann’s cross from a right-wing corner soared dangerously towards the centre of the box and Ricardo Filho’s rising header cannoned off the crossbar after taking a deflection.
Although the game was balanced, Hibs were executing things quicker and better than Valletta who struggled to find some rhythm.
In first-half stoppage time, Valletta should have equalised when, in a goalmouth scramble, Jason Vandelannoite dived at the feet of Mifsud but deflected the ball towards Jhonnattann who turned adroitly but his near-post effort rolled just wide of the near post.
As the two teams headed for the dressing rooms at half-time, several Hibs fans flashed euro banknotes to taunt Miller who, to his credit, made no reaction.
Six minutes into the second half, Cohen freed Dias but he hit wide.
Valletta would have equalised but for a fine save by Muscat who stopped Denni’s close-range shot after the Brazilian had burst into the box. Denni then headed against the outside of the near post from Jhonnattann’s corner.
The Citizens missed another great chance when Jhonnattann slipped the ball to the unmarked Mifsud but Ryan Camilleri ran across the penalty area to throw his body in the way of the Malta captain’s effort.
Just past the hour, Muscat repelled Denni’s attempt but, amid the ensuing melee, Cohen was adjudged to have struck the ball with his hands as Denni tried to make headway. Referee Pisani pointed to the spot but Barbosa blasted his shot over the bar.
Ndekre Elie Moises, an Ivorian striker who is having a trial with Hibs, came for Farrugia on 62 minutes.
Valletta continued to surge forward in search of an equaliser but poor finishing undermined their efforts. With 16 minutes remaining, Briffa picked out Jhonnattann but the Brazilian drove his shot over.
Seven minutes from time, Kevin Sammut, on for Borg, freed Jhonnattann in the box but the latter’s tame shot was cleared away by the unflappable Camilleri.
Hibs threatened to put the game beyond Valletta when Moises broke clear on the counter but his drive was warded off by the onrushing Krul. Moises then curled wide from inside the box.
Cohen also went close for Hibs but his curling free-kick whistled past the far post.
A. Krul, J. Caruana, S. Borg (81 K. Sammut), Jhonnattann, I. Azzopardi (71 D. Falzon), Jusselio, R. Briffa, Ricardo, Denni, W. Barbosa (71 E. Agius), M. Mifsud.
M. Muscat, R. Camilleri, R. Soares, J. Vandelannoite, A. Pulis, B. Kristensen, A. Cohen, C. Failla, J.P. Farrugia (62 N.E. Moises), M. Dias (56 S. Pisani), T. Caruana (70 J. Lima).
Referee: Clayton Pisani.
Missed penalty: Barbosa (V) 62.
Yellow cards: Dias; Failla; Briffa; Pisani; Agius.
Today: (Centenary Stadium) 6.30 p.m. Birkirkara vs Floriana.