Four goals shared in entertaining encounter
Ħamrun Spartans 2
Grima 15; Scerri 51;
Balzan FC 2
Mendy 19; Pedrinho 67;
Ħamrun Spartans and Balzan produced some exciting fare yesterday as the two Champion-ship Pool hopefuls shared four goals in an eventful match.
There was little to separate these two teams who gave as much as they got with the result in the balance until the final minutes.
The Reds always looked threatening up front as their attacking game posed all sorts of problems to the Balzan rearguard. However, their endeavours were undone by some hesitant defending which were fully exploited by the Balzan forwards.
In the end, it was the two goalkeepers, Matthew Camilleri and Andrea Cassar, the latter voted man-of-the-match, who drew the plaudits with some timely interventions to keep their respective sides in the match.
Ħamrun coach Stefan Sultana elected to start with the inexperienced Cassar in goal ahead of new signing Anthony Curmi while Bulgarian defender Anton Vergilov was ruled out with injury.
Terrence Scerri shrugged off a knock to start in attack alongside Bulgarian Nikol Bozhov.
Balzan were yesterday under the guidance of assistant coach Joe Borg.
Coach Ivan Zammit is currently serving a three-match touchline ban for unruly behaviour during his team’s AME Cup semi-final against Sliema Wanderers in pre-season.
Renie Forace was not included in the squad as he is recovering from groin trouble.
Prior to kick-off the Ħamrun skipper Roderick Fenech presented flowers to the relatives of Brenton Mifsud, the young Spartans supporter who passed away last week.
It was the Spartans who showed the better ideas in the opening exchanges and deservedly took the lead in their first serious raid at the Balzan goal.
On 15 minutes, Bozhov sped towards the area but was grounded by the Balzan defenders. A free-kick from a central position was awarded and Massimo Grima curled the ball low into the bottom corner of the Balzan net.
However, the Spartans’ joy only lasted a handful of minutes as Balzan drew level.
The equaliser again came from another set-piece situation when Pedrinho’s delivery found Matthew Mendy whose header had the better of Cassar.
Mendy’s goal spurred Balzan to push more men forward and on 21 minutes Elton sped past his marker but his effort finished just over the Ħamrun goal.
Mendy almost struck again two minutes later when he was first to Pedrinho’s corner. However, his headed effort this time hit the bar and out of play.
Balzan continued to threaten and on the half-hour Elton beat the offside trap, rounded goalkeeper Cassar but dallied his shot and Grima rushed back to block.
Eleven minutes from the break the Spartans shouted penalty when Scerri was upended in the box by Jonathan Francica. However, the referee waved play on.
On 36 minutes, goalkeeper Camilleri had to be alert to tip over Grima’s drive and at the other end Balzan had a glorious chance to go in for the break in the lead.
In fact, on 43 minutes Balzan were awarded a penalty when Elton was brought down in the area by Angel Yoshev.
Pedrinho’s fierce spot-kick was blocked by Cassar’s feet.
The Spartans seized the initiative after the break and on 50 minutes Yoshev burst into the Balzan box before sending in a low cross into the path of Scerri who had little difficulty in stabbing the ball home.
Balzan tried to stage an instant comeback and soon roped in Martin Deanov in lieu of Aaron Agius as stand-in coach Borg looked to add more pace to his forward line.
They were clearly craving for a moment of brilliance to put themselves back in contention and that was provided by talisman Pedrinho who unleashed a powerful drive from outside the area that gave Cassar no chance to save.
It was anyone’s game now and on 74 minutes Elton served Deanov who saw his effort at goal neutralised by the well-positioned Cassar.
At the other end, Lyubomir Vitanov’s shot was deflected into the path of Bozhov who saw his close-range shot kept out by the excellent Camilleri.
Balzan played stoppage time with ten men when Conceicao was shown a straight red card for a crude challenge on Fenech.
A. Cassar-7.5, G. Calabretta-6 (81 L. Grech), R. Fenech-6.5, M. Grima-7, T. Scerri-7, T. Vella-6.5 (71 R. Spiteri), D. Zerafa-6, A. Ivanov-5, A. Yoshev-6.5, L. Vitanov-6, N. Bozhov-5.
M. Camilleri-7, A. Agius-5.5 (63 M. Deanov-6), Y. Camilleri-6, M. Mendy-7, S. Giglio-5, R. Conceicao, J. Pace-6, D. Grima-6, J. Francica-6 (78 M. Licari), Pedrinho-7.5, Elton-7.
Referee: Mario Apap.
Yellow cards: Pedrinho, Mendy, Con-ceicao, Pace, Fenech.
Red card: Conceicao (B) 90.
Missed penalty: Pedrinho (B) 43.
BOV player of the match: Andrea Cassar (Ħamrun Spartans).
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