Paolites bank on aerial prowess to beat Magpies
Rabat Ajax 0
Levnaic 32; Pulis 35; Lima 45 pen;
Hibernians kept up their perfect start to the league season as they struck two quick goals midway through the first half before adding another just before the break that put them on their way to a trouble-free victory over Rabat Ajax.
Although the Paolites’ superiority was never in discussion, it has to be noted that they had to rely on their aerial prowess to breach a resolute Rabat defence which had conceded very little in the first half-hour.
However, that all changed when Zoran Levnaic and Adrian Pulis profited from Rabat’s poor marking in set-piece situations to put their team firmly in command.
The match was over as a contest in first-half stoppage time when Jackson Lima converted a penalty to seal three other points for Hibs.
Michael Woods, the Hibs coach, restored Serbian defender Levnaic to his starting formation as Steve Pisani was among the substitutes.
Upfront John Nwoba was preferred to Brazilian Anderson Ribeiro to fill the central attacking role in a 4-2-1-3 formation.
Rabat coach Silvio Vella effected two changes from the team that lost to Birkirkara in their last outing a fortnight ago.
Justin Felice was given the nod to replace the suspended Nerjus Ast-rauskas, who is serving a two-match ban, while Clive Brincat recovered from groin trouble and returned in the Magpies’ defence with Ryan Micallef forced to settle for a place on the bench.
Prior to kick-off, Hibernians president Tony Bezzina presented a memento to club striker Andrew Cohen in recognition of his 100 Premier League goal for the club.
An indecision from right-back Jonathan Pearson opened the way for Felice to burst into the Hibs box but his effort finished just over.
Hibs’ response arrived two minutes later when Cohen moved past two defenders but his shot was too central to trouble Rabat goalkeeper Sean Mintoff.
Cohen should have put the Paolites ahead on 19 minutes when he found himself unmarked inside the area but failed to make contact with the ball following an inviting cross from Rodolfo Soares. Mintoff easily blocked.
The Paolites continued to enjoy the better share of possession and on 24 minutes they were awarded a central free-kick from which Lima saw his inswinger flashing just wide.
Rabat were showing great defensive organisation and that was clearly mirrored in the limited number of shots on target by the Hibernians forwards.
On the half hour, Joseph Caruana was upended on the edge of the Hibs area, and from the free-kick Felice’s shot finished just over.
A minute later David Azzopardi went close for Rabat when his stinging drive flashed just wide.
However, it was Hibs who took the lead soon after. Marcelo Dias won a free-kick on the left flank and Cohen’s delivery was met by the unmarked Levnaic who headed the ball past Mintoff.
The Paolites’ aerial play came back to haunt the Magpies three minutes later as from a Jackson Lima corner, Mintoff misjudged his sortie and in came Pulis who planted the ball inside the net.
More woes were in store for Rabat as two minutes from the break, goalkeeper Mintoff suffered an injury and had to be replaced by Jonathan Azzopardi.
Hibs added a third goal in time added on when Ryan Camilleri was upended in the area by Dylan Falzon. Lima stepped up for the spot-kick and drilled the penalty past Rabat’s substitute keeper.
With the Paolites enjoying a three-goal buffer, the match had little to offer and it was no surprise that scoring chances became a rarity as the second half got underway.
On 65 minutes, goalkeeper Azzopardi had to be on the alert to keep out Nwoba’s goalbound effort from a Lima cross.
Hibs had the ball inside the Rabat net for a fourth time 12 minutes from time when Dias released substitute Jean Paul Farrugia whose shot was not held by Azzopardi and the U-21 striker scrambled the rebound into the net.
But the referee annulled the goal as he adjudged that Farrugia had fouled the Rabat keeper.
However, that little mattered on the final outcome as Hibs had long been home and dry.
S. Mintoff-5 (43 J. Azzopardi-5), C. Schembri-5 (67 P. Borg-5), I. Carapic-5.5, J. Caruana-5, J. Felice-6, A. Smeir-5.5, M. Fuster-5 (52 H. Backhaus-6), D. Falzon-5, C. Brincat-6, Y. Cauchi-5, D. Azzopardi-6.
M. Muscat-6, A. Pulis-6.5, R. Camilleri-7, J. Pearson-6, R. Soares-6, A. Cohen-6.5, B. Kristensen-6 (78 J. Bezzina), J. Lima-7.5 (85 A. Azzopardi), Z. Levnaic-7, J. Nwoba-5 (70 J.P. Farrugia-5), M. Dias-6.5.
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri.
Yellow cards: Schembri, Falzon, Carapic.
BOV Player of the match: Jackson Lima (Hibernians).