Birkirkara close the gap on Valletta
Jhonnattann 53 pen;
Brazilian Jhonnattann may have scored Birkirkara’s winner yesterday but Zach Muscat was the toast of town as he let out a roar of joy at the referee’s final, sparking celebrations among the Stripes supporters.
Muscat, the former Pieta Hotspurs defender, had just effected an all-important clear-ance deep into stoppage time to prevent Mosta’s Onyii Chiemeka from equalising, laying the Qormi spectre to rest.
With Valletta forfeiting another two points in their clash with Sliema Wanderers on Friday, the onus was again on Birkirkara to recoup some lost ground in the standings.
Last week, a last-gasp Abubaker Bello-Osagie equaliser for Qormi had denied the Stripes victory but at the second time of asking Birkirkara cut the gap on the leaders to two points, making Mosta pay the penalty in a low-key encounter at the Ħamrun ground.
It was a match bereft of excitement although Mosta looked slightly the better team in the closing moments. Birkirkara this time defended well to make Jhonnattann’s strike from the spot count.
The two changes in the Birkir-kara starting XI were enforced upon coach Paul Zammit by the suspension of Edward Herrera and captain Gareth Sciberras.
With Shola Shodiya Haruna again on the sidelines, Zammit indulged in some positional tinkering as Jhonnattann partnered Mifsud Triganza up front and Muscat deployed at right-back.
For Mosta, Luke Dimech was back in the thick of things while Carlos Compagnoli featured in the starting formation at the expense of Ryan Grech.
Birkirkara looked the more cohesive of the two sides and with midfield congested they made inroads down the flanks.
Ryan Camezuli tested waters inside the first three minutes with a rising shot that Justin Haber touched over the bar after the Stripes had a penalty shout turned down by the referee when Dimech seemed to have handled the ball as he tried to bring it down in the box following Mifsud Triganza’s cross.
Birkirkara dominated possession in the opening stages and 10 minutes later, Haber palmed a ferocious Mifsud Triganza shot around the post.
Mosta looked dangerous on the break through Daniel Bogdanovic and Obinna Obiefule.
It was a quick one-two combination between these protagonists that undid the Stripes’ rearguard after 28 minutes but Bogdanovic dragged his effort wide.
Tactics-wise, Stephen D’Amato lined up his troops in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Obiefule spear-heading the attack and Ousseni Zongo and Bogdanovic deployed on the wings.
For all their running, Birkirkara’s passing was somewhat erratic and Mosta’s pressing game made it hard for the Stripes midfielders to get the ball to their front players.
Soon, Zammit’s men reverted to hopeful deliveries from the halfway line in a bid to pick up the strikers.
And for the rest of the first half it looked as if the match had fallen into a lull.
After the break, D’Amato ditched his conserative tactics, throwing Danail Mitev into the fray instead of Compagnoli.
But it was Jhonnattann’s pace that instigated a real sense of urgency for Birkirkara soon after the interval.
He bore down on the left wing before passing the ball to Mifsud Triganza in the middle but the latter’s weak shot caused no trouble to Haber.
Mosta lost all sense of discipline on 53 minutes when Chiemeka needlessly gave away a foul in the box when he hauled Mifsud Triganza to the ground.
The referee pointed to the spot and Jhonnattann showed no nerves as he converted the penalty with aplomb.
Six minutes later, Rowen Muscat served Mifsud Triganza in the box but his strike whizzed across the face of goal.
In the 68th minute, Zongo made the impossible when he failed to connect to a ball by Obie-fule after Bogdanovic showed some deft footwork on the right flank to set the Nigerian up in the box.
Mosta finally freed themselves from their chains, and were now also able to play their game.
After 75 minutes, Zongo left Muscat in his wake on the right and got the ball down the box before darting menacingly into the area but Nikola Vukanac cleared the danger.
A few moments later, anxiety coursed through the Mosta fans when Haber’s clearance hit Jhon-nattann and the ball flew just wide.
Mosta almost struck the equaliser in stoppage time.
Aboulezz nodded a free-kick into the path of Chiemeka and Gauci flapped as he tried to clear the danger but Zach Muscat came to his side’s rescue to clear off the line the Nigerian’s effort on goal, much to the delight of the Stripes’ clan.
J. Haber-7, M. Micallef-5, A. Cini (21 R. Grech-6), L. Dimech-6, S. Bezzina-5.5, O. Chiemeka-6, C. Compagnoli-5 (46 D. Mitev-5), F. Aboulezz-6, D. Bogdanovic-6.5, O. Zongo-5, O. Obiefule-5.
R. Gauci-5, R. Scicluna-5.5 (84 D. Spiteri), N. Vukanac-6, J. Zerafa-6. R. Camenzuli-5, R. Muscat-7, P. Fenech-7, Jhon-nattann-6, A. Mendoza Corujo-7, Z. Muscat-7, J.P. Mifsud Triganza-6.5 (90 A. Borg).
Referee: Trustan Farrugia Cann.
Yellow cards: Dimech, Chiemeka, Scic-luna, Zerafa, Aboulezz, Jhonnattann.
BOV Player of the match: Justin Haber (Mosta).