10-man Balzan give Sliema the blues
Sliema Wanderers 0
Surprise 4-0 winners over Hibs, Sliema Wanderers received a dose of their own medicine yesterday as they were on the receiving end of a 1-0 defeat to Balzan.
Coming from two wins on the spin, Balzan turned in a disciplined and resilient performance that takes on added value when one considers that the Reds played the last 25 minutes with a man short after Jamie Pace’s dismissal.
Leading through Christian Caruana’s 10th-minute opener, Balzan looked to have suffered a potentially fatal blow when Pace was sent off but their resolute approach laid bare Sliema’s frailties with the Blues looking inept throughout the game.
Balzan’s formation showed two alterations from the come-from-behind 2-1 defeat of Melita with Stefan Giglio and Christian Caruana receiving Zammit’s nod ahead of Bjorn Bondin and Martin Deanov.
Elton was Balzan’s central striker with Pedrinho, as usual, given freedom to roam in pursuit of openings.
Glenn Zammit deputised for the injured Henry Bonello in Sliema goal while Andrew Decesare was preferred to Luca Martinelli.
Ivan Woods, Sliema’s hat-trick hero against Hibs, was deployed at the tip of the Blues’ 4-1-4-1 formation with Luigi Ruggiero and John Mintoff on the wings.
Inside the opening three minutes, Balzan’s Frederick Tabone, standing in for long-term injury absentee Matthew Camilleri, tipped away Woods’s cross from a corner.
It was Balzan who broke the stalemate on 10 minutes when Pedrinho served Caruana whose piledriver from just outside the box had the better of Zammit.
Gaining confidence from their opener, Balzan were showing themselves more often in the Sliema half. Elton miscued his header from Renie Forace’s left-wing cross.
Sliema’s toils were evident when, on 16 minutes, Pedrinho evaded the attentions of a clutch of blue-shirted players as he flicked the ball to the steaming Forace whose grounderwas repelled by Zammit.
With Balzan defending with five players – three centre-halves plus two wing-backs – when chasing possession, Sliema were having trouble making headway on the wings.
Five minutes from half-time, Woods cut inside from the left and pulled back for Barbetti who produced a rising shot that sailed over.
In a counter-attack, the advancing Forace did well to win his tussle with Stefano Bianciardi but the Balzan captain mishit his shot. On the stroke of half-time, Tabone blocked Mintoff’s shot.
Greco effected his first substitution six minutes into the second half, introducing Ariel Laudisi for the subdued Matias Muchardi. The Sliema coach also instructed Mintoff and Muscat to swap roles in a bid to add width to his team’s attacking spectrum.
Close to the hour, Balzan threatened to double their advantage when, from a Pedrinho corner, Pace headed the ball into the goalmouth and Caruana’s half-volley was saved in two attempts by Zammit.
Barbetti then went close with a diagonal shot that dropped on the roof of the net while goalkeeper Zammit saved Pedrinho’s free-kick.
Midway into the second half, referee Esther Azzopardi had to deal with a bout of pulling and shoving as the Sliema players took issue with Caruana’s late challenge on Zammit after the goalkeeper had anticipated the Balzan forward.
Pace, who had just been booked, was dismissed after receiving a second caution for pushing an opponent. Here, the Balzan coach hauled off Caruana for defensive midfielder Bjorn Bondin.
Sliema were now expected to pile the pressure but their reaction was tame. Alex Muscat was unlucky when his first-time thunderbolt rattled the bar with nine minutes left.
In stoppage time, Laudisi headed wide from a corner by substitute Diego Ortega.
Balzan: F. Tabone-6.5, M. Mendy-7, Y. Camilleri-6.5, R. Conceicao-6.5, S. Giglio-7, R. Forace-7, D. Grima-7, J. Pace, Pedrinho-6.5 (90 M. Deanov), C. Caruana-6.5 (70 B. Bondin-6), Elton-6 (90 A. Agius).
Sliema Wanderers: G. Zammit-5.5, A. Muscat-6, P. Barbetti-6 (89 D. Ortega), J. Mintoff-5 (76 M. Ciantar), L. Ruggiero-5, A. Decesare-4, C. Gatt Baldacchino-5, I. Woods-5, M. Muchardi-4 (51 A. Laudisi), B. Muscat-5, S. Bianciardi-5.
Referee Esther Azzopardi.
Yellow Cards Pedrinho; Grima; Muchardi; Barbetti; Pace; B. Muscat; Mendy; Woods.
Red Card Pace (B) 67.
Bov Player Of The Match Christian Caruana (Balzan).