Tarxien turn tables on Greens
Darmanin 3; Jeffers 27;
Tarxien Rainbows 3
Pulo 17; Danilo 39, 73;
With the fight for Championship Pool places set to intensify in the coming weeks and months, this match was an opportunity for Floriana and Tarxien Rainbows to strengthen their push for a top-six berth.
The two teams were coming from contrasting derby experiences as Floriana succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to Valletta while Tarxien struck a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Hibs.
With Tarxien missing no fewer than five players due to suspensions and injury, Floriana will have been optimistic about their chances of ending their negative run as they chased their first win since Stephen Azzopardi took charge of the team.
That certainly looked the case in the first half as Floriana were the better team for long stretches, taking the lead twice but their failure to press home their early dominance came back to haunt them.
Tarxien, showing determination and grit, hit back to equalise late in the first half before turning the tables on their opponents in the second half.
Unsurprisingly, given the enforced changes in their line-up, Tarxien had found the going tough in the opening half but, after drawing at 2-2, they were a transformed side after half-time with Karl Pulo epitomising his team’s improvement with a vibrant display and Danilo finishing off Floriana with a clinical goal.
With this win, Tarxien consolidated sixth place with 14 points while Floriana remained fourth from bottom on nine.
Suspension deprived Tarxien coach Clive Mizzi of four first-choice players in Justin Grioli, Manuel Caruana, Daniel Mariano Bueno and Andrezinho while Ryan Sammut missed out due to injury. Carlo Mamo, Evaldo, back from suspension, Roderick Bajada, Mark Tanti and Steven Bonnici deputised for the absent quartet.
Tarxien’s tactical module was 4-2-3-1 with Bajada, Pulo and Tanti operating behind Danilo, the lone striker in Mizzi’s formation.
Stationed in front of Tarxien’s four-man defence, Orosco Anonam had the task of limiting the threat posed by the roaming Aman Verma, one of the most creative elements in this revamped Floriana side.
Aaron Brown, back from a three-match ban, replaced the injured Owen Bugeja while Ryan Darmanin, a second-half substitute in the derby defeat to Valletta, earned a first-team recall, taking the place of Valdo Alhinho who was unavailable.
Floriana were off to a flying start.
Three minutes from the start of the game had elapsed when Verma’s cross from the right triggered a goalmouth melee as Francis Jeffers’s run unsettled Tarxien goalkeeper Nicky Vella. The loose ball fell to Darmanin who buried the ball home.
Another Cilia delivery from the right sailed towards Darmanin but his header was off target.
Floriana’s improved showing in the second half of last week’s derby induced coach Stephen Azzopardi to go for a 4-4-2 approach with Darmanin flanking Francis Jeffers up front.
The Greens’ early goal was a setback for Tarxien but they regrouped to level matters on 17 minutes.
Evaldo’s well-taken free-kick, hit low towards the far post, drew a good save from Tony Warner but the loose ball rolled to Pulo who drove home from close in.
It was not long before the Greens reclaimed the initiative. Verma had a low shot inadvertently blocked by a team-mate but, on 27 minutes, Floriana restored their lead.
Verma was instrumental as his well-executed free-kick ricocheted off the upright but Jeffers was on hand to head home for his first Floriana goal.
Jeffers threatened again, this time with a long-range drive that brought a fine save from Vella.
The goal clearly had an uplifting effect on Jeffers. On the half-hour mark, the English striker advanced on the right before dragging a dangerous cross into the six-yard box with Vella clearly relieved to see the ball go wide after his clearance came off Cilia.
Good passing and non-stop movement, on and off the ball, were central to Floriana’s ascendancy. Verma supplied the flair in midfield with Jeffers also dropping deep occasionally to be more involved in his team’s build-up play.
But, in a rare breakaway, Tarxien made it 2-2. Pulo turned provider as his run on the left caught the Floriana defence unawares. The former Birkirkara winger accelerated into the box before squaring to the unmarked Danilo who flicked home.
Carlo Mamo, an injury doubt before the game, was withdrawn at half-time. Luiz Romulo De Castro, a midfielder, came on for Mamo with David Fenech dropped to left-back.
Four minutes into the second half, Cilia set off on a bursting run that took him to the edge of the box but his effort was warded off by Evaldo.
At the other end, De Castro did well to spot Pulo’s progression into the box but the latter’s angled effort was tipped away by Warner.
Oozing confidence after his influential first-half display, Pulo was Tarxien’s most effective player as his surging runs kept the Floriana defenders on their toes.
Pulo headed over from Danilo’s cross on the hour. Moments earlier, Azzopardi made a double substitution, bringing on Sunday Wasiu and Joseph Borg for Verma and the hobbling Cilia respectively.
Wasiu took up an attacking role alongside Darmanin with Jeffers dropping into the advanced midfield position previously occupied by Varma.
On 63 minutes, Warner needed two interventions to tame Tanti’s cross-shot.
Floriana felt hard done by the referee’s decision not to award them a free-kick on the edge of the box after Tyrone Farrugia appeared to have been impeded by Fenech as he tried to pick a loose ball. As the Greens supporters made their feelings known to the match officials, a minor commotion broke out in the stands as some fans were ejected from the stadium by the police.
Floriana’s frustration grew as Tarxien went ahead for the first time in the match 17 minutes from time.
Anonam cut up the Floriana defence with a through-ball to Danilo who advanced before beating Warner with a low shot.
Danilo tormented Floriana again when he embarked on a diagonal run that took him past Warner but his lob was high.
A charging run from the back by Farrugia disconcerted the Tarxien defence as none of their players managed to close down the stocky defender who let fly a rising shot that was turned away by Vella.
The Tarxien goalkeeper was prominent again when fisting away Borg’s inswinging corner from the left.
In stoppage time, man-of-the-match Pulo was wide with a diagonal shot.
T. Warner-6, A. Brown-6, T. Paris-6, T. Cilia-6.5 (60 J. Borg-4), A. Verma-6 (60 S. Wasiu-4), F. Jeffers-5.5, K. Farrugia-4, D. Pisani-4, R. Darmanin-5.5, T. Farrugia-6.5, C. Borg-6 (73 B. Farrugia).
N. Vella-6.5, S. Sadowski-6 (82 A. Agius), C. Mamo-5 (46 L.R. De Castro-6), Evaldo-7, R. Bajada-6.5 (85 C. Fenech), Danilo-7.5, K. Pulo-8, M. Tanti-6.5, D. Fenech-7, O. Anonam-7, S. Bonnici-7.
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri.
Yellow cards: Sadowski; Danilo; Paris; Evaldo.
BOV player of the match: Karl Pulo (Tarxien Rainbows).