Up-and-coming striker Spiteri hands Spartans derby spoils
Ħamrun Spartans 1
Ħamrun Spartans’ recent revival continued yesterday as a fine strike from the up-and-coming Ryan Spiteri earned the Reds an important victory over neighbours Qormi.
It was a valuable win for the rejuvenated Reds who, after a poor performance in a first half during which they were outplayed for long stretches by Qormi, they steadied ship after the interval.
Stefan Sultana’s team began to impose themselves on the match until Ryan Spiteri, the younger brother of Gaetan, currently playing on loan for Qormi from Ħamrun, provided them with a vital winner that earned the Spartans their second successive victory.
More importantly, Spiteri’s strike lifted Ħamrun closer to the teams fighting for a top-six berth. In fact, they are now just one point behind sixth-placed Tarxien Rainbows.
For Qormi, yesterday’s defeat was surely hard to fathom, especially after a dominant first-half display during which they created a string of scoring opportunities but their failure to score proved to be their downfall.
Their poor finishing in front of goal is a concern for coach Jesmond Zerafa who is looking to revive his team’s Championship Pool hopes as they are currently third from bottom with only seven points.
Sultana was forced to make two changes to his starting formation as Massimo Grima was ruled out with a one-match ban while midfielder Daniel Zerafa was injured.
In their place, Sultana opted to draft in two promising players in Spiteri and Glenn Azzopardi.
Zerafa decided against making any changes to the team that surprisingly lost to Melita as he looked to pick up his first points since replacing Stephen Azzo-pardi as Qormi coach.
The match kicked off five minutes late after one of the floodlights suddenly went off but the partial black-out only lasted a few minutes.
Gaetan Spiteri, facing the Reds for the first time since his move away from the club with whom he played for many years, almost masterminded Qormi’s opener after five minutes. He released Leighton Grech with a precise through-ball but the agile winger saw his shot blocked by goalkeeper Andrea Cassar.
It was all Qormi in these early exchanges with Spiteri, Abubakar Bello-Osagie and Grech trying to find spaces in the Spartans defence but, for all their efforts, they rarely produced any efforts that unsettled goalkeeper Cassar.
On 24 minutes, Qormi had a glorious opportunity to go ahead when Grech dispossessed Roderick Fenech inside the area before serving the unmarked Bello-Osagie who incredibly fired against the upright with only Cassar to beat.
Ħamrun’s first attempt at goal arrived on 31 minutes when Angel Yoshev’s shot from outside the penalty area finished well over.
Eleven minutes from the break, Grech found Spiteri inside the area and the forward quickly turned past his marker but fired into the side-netting.
The match remained devoid of scoring opportunities with Qormi retaining the initiative but the Spartans defence held firm.
Just before the half-time whistle, Qormi threatened again. They were awarded a free-kick from a central position and Kris Thackray’s curling shot was not held by Cassar but from the rebound, Edison Bilbao Zarate hit wide.
The Spartans were an improved side at the start of the second half and on 49 minutes, Lyubomir Vitanov’s shot was well blocked by Matthew Farrugia, the Qormi goalkeeper.
Three minutes later, the Bulgarian midfielder got on the end of David Camilleri’s corner with the ball falling in the path of Fenech who drove wide.
On 58 minutes, Zarate did well to progress on the left channel before picking out Grech in the area but the Qormi winger failed to hit the target with only Cassar to beat.
Zerafa effected his first change on 66 minutes when he withdrew Grech in favour of Joseph Chetcuti in a bid to add fresh energy to his team’s attack.
The match badly needed a moment of brilliance to spring into life and that duly arrived 14 minutes from time.
Ħamrun substitute Luke Grech, who had earlier replaced Gianluca Calabretta, sent a teasing cross which was deviated into the path of Ryan Spiteri.
The Spartans youngster showed great skill as he chested the ball down before rifling a fine volley which had the better of Farrugia to send the Spartans fans into ecstasy.
Gaetan Spiteri almost emulated his brother three minutes from time when he stormed into the area but was denied by a fine tackle from Fenech who saved the Reds from a potentially dangerous situation.
In time added-on, Cassar preserved the Spartans’ lead with a fine block from Luke Sciberras’s attempt.
A. Cassar-6.5, G. Azzopardi-6, R. Spiteri-7, T. Vella-5, G. Calabretta-5 (59 L. Grech-6), A. Ivanov-6, R. Fenech-7, L. Vitanov-6.5, A. Yoshev-6, A. Vergilov-6, D. Camilleri-6.5.
M. Farrugia-5, K. Thackray-6, R. Sammut-5.5, M. Bartolo-5, V. Pisani-5 (85 A. Siritto), A. Bello-Osagie-5, L. Sciberras-5, E. Bilbao Zarate-5, G. Spiteri-6, J. Bondin-5 (84 M. Gauci), L. Grech-6 (66 J. Chetcuti-5).
Referee: Kevin Azzopardi.
Yellow cards: Pisani; Vella; Chetcuti; Cassar.
BOV player of the match: Ryan Spiteri (Ħamrun Spartans).