Uninspiring Valletta concede first defeat of the season
Valletta’s current surreal situation took another turn for the worse yesterday as they tasted their first defeat this season at the hands of Mosta and it was one of the most painful as the deposed league leaders have now failed to win in their last five Premier League matches.
With Birkirkara forfeiting two points in their clash with surprise package Balzan on Friday and Hibernians shocked by Qormi in yesterday’s curtain-raiser at Ta’ Qali, the onus was on Valletta to win and recoup some lost ground at the top of the standings.
All these factors fuelled expectations by the passionate Valletta fans of a gritty performance from their team but for the best part of the match was anything but as Mark Miller’s men lacked a cutting edge with the result that scoring opportunities were rare.
And Valletta’s casual start to the second half simply invited Mosta to attack them as they struck early to snatch a priceless victory that further boosts their aspirations of a top six finish.
After falling behind to Obinna Obiefule’s goal, Valletta’s reaction was null and they never put together a move of genuine quality to avoid this upset.
Miller rung the changes, making no fewer than three alterations to his line-up following his team’s toothless display against Tarxien Rainbows in their previous match.
Brazilian defender Ricardo was left out as the Valletta coach awarded the fourth foreigner’s slot to striker Leandro.
The other changes in the Lilywhites starting formation included Edmond Agius and Dyson Falzon taking the place of Kurt Magro and Shawn Bajada respectively.
Changes were not only limited to personnel as the Englishman switched from the traditional 4-4-2 to a more offensive 4-2-3-1 formation.
The inclusion of Leandro necessitated some positional switches in defence with Ian Azzopardi partnering Jonathan Caruana in central defence, captain Roderick Briffa manning the right flank as Falzon filled in at left-back.
Mosta coach Steve D’Amato opted for a 4-3-1-2 module with Daniel Bogdanovic awarded a recall to flank Obiefule up front as Steve Chiemeka and Jonathan Bajada, who shrugged off a knee injury, were also named in the initial formation.
Danail Mitev, Bryan Agius and Firas Aboulezz paid the price for a lame showing in the 1-0 upset against Hibernians and were all demoted to the bench.
Seven minutes into the game, Valletta were awarded a free-kick from an inviting position. William Barbosa curled his free-kick beyond Mosta’s defensive wall but his effort cannoned off the upright.
That episode brought Mosta to their senses as they went up at the other end and Bajada strode clear on the left before hitting a cross that eluded the entire Valletta defence and into the path of Bogdanovic whose powerful first-timer gave Manuel Bartolo no chance. However, the shot from the Mosta striker crashed against the post.
Valletta failed to heed the alarm signals, conceding a set-piece after 25 minutes. From the ensuing free-kick, Bogdanovic swung in a teasing ball just wide.
But the champions should have broken the stalemate two minutes later when Denni raced past Bajada in the box but the Brazilian’s shot-on-turn hit the woodwork for a second time in the match.
With Mosta lacking the early spark to pose problems, Valletta somewhat stayed in command.
On 34 minutes, Azzopardi used his pace to race upfield before driving the ball just over the bar.
During the interval, the atmosphere in the stands grew more vocal than usual as the Valletta fans voiced their concerns about the side’s flat first-half performance.
But the sight of Michael Mifsud descending on the pitch after the break will have raised spirits among the fans. The striker came on for Fenech as the champions reverted to 4-3-3.
But it was Mosta who started to increase their attacking endeavours in the early stages after the break.
On 50 minutes, Ousseni Zongo supplied an inviting cross but Bogdanovic’s effort strayed wide of the far post.
But when these two players combined again four minutes later, Mosta seized the lead.
The Burkino Faso midfielder punted the ball forward for Bogdanovic who exploited his speed off the mark to race past Falzon on the right flank and sent in a fine cross for Obinna Obiefule to poke the ball into the net.
Valletta tried to raise their game but their efforts seldom troubled Mosta.
On 55 minutes, Mifsud advanced through before putting in a low shot from the D that Haber reached without difficulty.
The Mosta keeper then fisted away Denni’s thunderous free-kick and, from the loose ball, Agius headed over.
A few minutes later, a long-range drive from Agius signalled the first spell of sustained pressure from the white-shirted players. Yet, they were relying too much on hopeful shots from the distance.
On 72 minutes, Miller brought in Ian Zammit, a striker, in the place of midfielder Agius, allowing the former Mosta man to push on extremely high up the flank.
But the Blues remained undeterred as Steve D’Amato introduced Alex Cini, switching to five-man defence, a way of shutting up shop.
Valletta’s confused efforts were easily withheld by a resolute Mosta.
City’s pressure petered out as the match drew to a close much to the frustration of the Valletta followers, some of whom also jeered their own players off the pitch and continued with their protests outside the stadium well after the match was over.
M. Bartolo-6, D. Falzon-5, I. Azzopardi-6.5, J. Caruana-5, W. Barbosa-5.5, E. Agius-6 (72 I. Zammit), R. Fenech-5 (46 M. Mifsud-4), Denni-6.5, Leandro-5 (83 Ricardo), Gabriel-4.5, R. Briffa-5.
J. Haber-6, M. Micallef-6, S. Bezzina-5, S. Chiemeka-7.5, L. Dimech-6.5, C. Compagnoli-6, R. Grech-6 (55 F. Aboulezz-5), O. Zongo-6.5, D. Bogdanovic-7.5, O. Obiefule-6.5, J. Bajada-5.5 (72 A. Cini).
Referee: Glenn Tonna.
Yellow cards: Compagnoli, Briffa, Grech, Gabriel, Aboulezz.
BOV player of the match: Daniel Bogdanovic (Mosta).