Fenech the architect behind Valletta’s win
Fenech 5, 45; Briffa 82;
Six minutes from time, Ryan Fenech receiving a standing ovation from the Valletta fans as he made way for Edmond Agius.
A deserved treat that was for the quality midfielder who capped a dynamic display with two goals as the champions showed their true mettle at the expense of modest opponents.
Fenech was a perfect replacement for Michael Mifsud, still not 100 per cent fit, as the Malta midfielder fully exploited Qormi’s frailties at the back, continuously tormenting his opponents with fine play and some deft touches.
While Fenech’s decisive contribution vindicated in no small measure Mark Miller’s decision to keep him in Valletta’s fold this season, the Lilywhites’ performance was somewhat below par for the first hour.
However, they improved in the latter stages when their forward momentum was inevitably boosted by the introduction of Mifsud as City cruised to their third successive victory to keep the pace with Birkirkara and Hibernians.
Defender Alessio Cassar was included in Qormi’s starting line-up instead of former Vittoriosa Stars winger Leighton Grech.
British midfielder Kris Thackray was detailed to patrol the back four as Italian striker Vincenzo Pisani was the front-runner in Qormi’s formation.
Mifsud was troubled with a groin strain during the week and that condition, perhaps, forced Miller to start without his prolific goal-getter as the Englishman tweaked his traditional 4-4-2 configuration by deploying Denni as a lone striker in a 4-1-4-1 set-up.
Yet, former Sliema Wanderers midfielder Fenech was a perfect replacement for Mifsud as he made the most of some hesitant defending from Qormi inside the first five minutes to open the scoring.
Roderick Briffa escaped down the right flank before releasing Fenech. His left foot is lethal but he preferred to use the right leg to send an exquisite lob into the net.
William Barbosa came close to doubling Valletta’s advantage on 24 minutes, crashing a free-kick against the crossbar as five minutes before half-time, eyes were drawn on Denni who was writhing in pain after pulling a muscle.
Miller introduced Leandro da Silva Almeida and the Brazilian almost had an immediate impact, heading just wide from Briffa’s cross.
Yet, the Lilywhites received a timely boost just before the break, thanks to the precocious talent of Fenech who evaded the attentions of the jittery Qormi defenders to chest the ball before firing a powerful shot that bulged the net.
Valletta shaded the early exchanges in the initial stages of the second half despite Qormi introducing striker Gaetan Spiteri. Yet, they had to wait until the hour mark for the first noteworthy episode when Dyson Falzon’s cross-cum-shot was dealt with by alert Qormi goalkeeper Matthew Farrugia.
And Qormi almost scored from their first foray inside the opposing half.
However, Spiteri was blocked by keeper Manuel Bartolo when well-placed inside the box.
Reprieved by that escape, Valletta quickly regained the initiative. Falzon’s perfect ball was headed wide by the towering Leandro on 67 minutes.
Mifsud was back in action as he came on as a 73rd-minute substitute and he almost scored with his first touch of the ball but he side-netted his shot from a tight-angle.
With Mifsud’s pace, the Citizens rediscovered their slick-moving game as they started to attack from all angles.
Another fast break by Mifsud unsettled Qormi but the Malta captain shot straight into Farrugia’s hands.
The Citizens’ late flurry yielded a third goal eight minutes from time courtesy of Briffa who bore down on goal through the middle after receiving from Fenech who turned provider.
The City captain briefly assessed his options before letting loose a pulverising shot that had the better of Farrugia.
In stoppage time, Gabriel’s effort on goal, following a mazy run, was repelled by the Qormi goalkeeper.
M. Bartolo-6, S. Borg-6.5, J. Caruana-6.5, J. Gabriel-6.5, R. Briffa-7, Ricardo-6, D. Falzon-6.5, W. Barbosa-6, Denni-5 (40 Leandro-6), S. Bajada-5.5 (73 M. Mifsud), R. Fenech-8 (84 E. Agius).
M. Farrugia-5, K. Thackray-5, R. Sammut-6, M. Bartolo-6, V. Pisani-5 (61 L. Grech-5), A. Cassar-5, J. Chetcuti-6 (80 G. Buttigieg), A. Bello-Osagie-5 (46 G. Spiteri-5), M. Gauci-5.5, S. Siritto-5, J. Bondin-5.
Referee: Alan Mario Sant.
Yellow cards: Bondin, Thackray, Pisani, Ricardo.
BOV player of the match: Ryan Fenech (Valletta).