Valletta maintain record
Hibernians 0 Valletta 1
Valletta maintained their 100 per cent record to the season, with Leandro da Silva Almeida scoring the decisive goal 15 minutes from time.
Andrew Cohen tested waters with a pulverising drive that ended high inside the first seven minutes. But Valletta started in bright fashion, thanks mainly to better movement from their forwards and support from the flanks. In the ninth minute Denni and Ryan Fenech exchanged passes before the former Valletta player unleashed a pile drive that fizzed just off the target.
The game continued to ebb and flow. And three minutes later, Leandro with a superb solo effort on the left flank, left his marker Jonathan Pearson for dead, evading his tackle before firing a low drive which went off the far post. That triggered an intense period of pressure from Valletta as Michael Mifsud rattled the underside of the bar with Balzan beaten, after pouncing on a short cleareance by the Hibernians defence in the 23rd minute.
Picking up the ball in space, Gabriel’s brilliant ‘no look’ pass was weighted perfectly down the right channel into which Denni scrampered.
But Balzan did well to deny the lively Brazilian when the nippy striker found himself face to face with the goalkeeper.
Hibernians’ game plan appeared to focus on being tight in defence and worrying about pushing forward secondarily. Valletta sailed forward in numbers in an attempt to unhunge the well-drilled the Paolities defence while they peppered the City with a series of set-pieces.
Just before half-time, Valletta threantened to hurt their opponents on the counter but Denni quickly played the ball to Mifsud but Balzan rushed out of his goal to clear the ball outside the area.
Cohen’s cross from the left, two minutes into the second half, wreaked havoc in the Valletta defence who struggled to take the ball away from John Nwoba but the latter’s effort was repelled by Steve Borg.
The Citizens were also dangerous when a superb cross by substitute Shawn Bajada – who came in just before half-time to replace Fenech who limped out with injury – fell to Mifsud who tried to unbalance the goalkeeper by slotting a shot between his legs but the ball got stuck under Balzan’s body.
Four minutes later, Zoran Levnaic sent Bajada crashing following a serious venture towards the Hibernians area. The free-kick was awarded in perfect William Barbosa territoty. And the Brazilian exacted a delightful strike that bent viciously awy from Balzan’s despairing dive but crashed against the crossbar.
Valletta hit the jackpot ten minutes later. After controlling Borg’s long pass, Bajada used all his guile and pace to outpace Pearson and feed Gabriel whose low first-timer effort finished in the corner behind Balzan.
The Paolities grew increasingly impatient and confused with the result that their disjointed attacks were easily warded off by Valletta. Wood made his second substitution six minutes from time throwing in Ribeiro for Levnaic as he unleashed all his attacking elements.
One minute from time, assistant referee Mariano Debono incurred the wrath of the Hibs clan when Jackson Lima bundled the ball into the net. But the Brazilian had given the ball a helping hand over the line and the ‘goal’ was disallowed.
Just before the final whistle, Cohen booted the ball upfield as Jackson surged forward but Bartolo came out his line to get the ball before the Brazilian, dashing the Paolities’ hopes of last-gasp equaliser.