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Melita shock champions

Standing tall... Melita players celebrate their opening goal in their 2-1 win over Valletta yesterday. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Standing tall... Melita players celebrate their opening goal in their 2-1 win over Valletta yesterday. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Melita 2
Micallef 45, 90;
Valletta 1
Leandro 48;

Melita created the biggest upset in this season’s BOV Premier League when they stunned champions Valletta by the odd goal in three.

Luke Micallef was the undoubted hero for the Amateurs as the young striker grabbed two carbon-copy goals to earn his team a historic victory that piles the pressure on the Citizens who again looked far from their best yesterday.

As expected, Valletta dominated possession for much of the match but were devoid of a cutting edge, especially during the opening 45 minutes.

Melita’s shock opener late in the first half sent out a clear warning about their intentions but the Citizens seemed to deliver the response their fans expected when drawing level early in the second half.

From then on, Valletta laid siege to the Melita goal but could not find a way through, hitting the woodwork on three occasions.

Valletta’s misery was complete when Melita applied the killer touch in stoppage time, Micallef grabbing the winner to hand the Amateurs only their second win this season, one that should boost their confidence immeasurably.

For their part, Valletta remain second in the standings, on 29 points, level with Birkirkara and two adrift of leaders Hibernians.

Valletta coach Mark Miller had to contend with a number of absentees as Roderick Briffa was serving a one-match ban while Jonathan Caruana joined his defensive partner Steve Borg on the sidelines with a knee injury.

On the plus side, Ian Azzopardi declared himself fit to start in a central role alongside Ricardo while Kurt Magro was drafted in at right-back. Striker Michael Mifsud was again among the substitutes.

Patxi Salinas, the Melita coach, gave a debut to Spanish goalkeeper Guillermo Gabilondo Garcia while his compatriot Daniel Cabanillas Ayllon, who also joined the Amateurs last week, was on the bench.

Nigel Rizzo and Matthew Borg missed out due to suspension with Michael Valenzia and Luke Sammut stepping in to replace them.

Valletta made the early running and after four minutes, Ryan Fenech tested Garcia from the distance but the Spanish keeper did well to block his shot in two attempts.

Melita responded two minutes later when Micallef beat the City’s offside trap and surged into the area but his pass towards Julian Galea was poor and Azzopardi cleared.

On 16 minutes, Brazilian forward Leandro showed great footwork to force his way past Manuel Ramon Sierra Camacho before picking out Ian Zammit whose dipping header finished over the bar.

Five minutes later, the Melita goalkeeper almost handed City a goal when he fumbled his attempt to punch away Denni’s corner but luckily for the Spaniard, Ricardo’s overhead kick finished wide.

The match suddenly entered a lull in terms of scoring opportunities as the Citizens looked short of ideas and their distribution was very poor, with striker Zammit receiving little service.

Eight minutes from the break, Fenech turned past his marker and unleashed a powerful drive that was stopped by Gabilondo Garcia.

The unexpected happened in stoppage time when Andrew Caruana Scicluna’s through-ball released Micallef who beat the City offside trap, rounded goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo and deposited the ball into an empty net.

Miller’s half-time pep talk seems to have reaped the desired dividends as Valletta took just three minutes to restore equilibrium.

They won a corner on the right and Denni’s cross was headed towards the far post by Zammit with Leandro on hand to nod the ball home.

That turned out to be Leandro’s final contribution as the Brazilian suffered a head injury in the goal action and was replaced by compatriot Gabriel.

The goal inevitably spurred the Citizens forward and on 56 minutes, Zammit burst through on the right before sending a cross that found no takers. Fenech retrieved the ball and quickly chipped it towards Denni who headed wide in front of a gaping goal.

On 58 minutes, Melita protested for a penalty when Julian Galea looked to have been pushed to the floor by Ricardo but referee Esther Azzopardi waved play on.

Miller was forced to make his second substitution on 63 minutes when Ricardo limped out with a knee injury. He was replaced by striker Joseph Jojo Ogunnuppe.

Ricardo’s exit saw William Barbosa move into a defensive position with Fenech taking up a central midfield role with Ogunnuppe playing at right wing.

Ogunnuppe almost left an instant mark as, seconds after his introduction, he latched on to a loose ball from a Denni corner but his shot hit the bar before Melita cleared.

The Citizens suffered another blow on 67 minutes when Barbosa suffered a head injury and was replaced by Mifsud. Barbosa’s departure left Miller short of defensive options with Magro moving into central defence to partner Azzopardi.

Fourteen minutes from time, City almost took the lead when Fenech served Zammit in the area but the latter’s shot-on-the-turn flashed wide.

Luck was not favouring the champions who were denied by the woodwork a second time on 79 minutes when Zammit’s piledriver hit the bar.

When the fourth official signalled six minutes of added time, the Citizens harboured hopes of snatching a dramatic winner but it was Melita who struck the fatal blow.

Substitute Jean Pierre Attard released Micallef who sped through, rounded Bartolo and fired the ball into an empty net to the delight of the Melita players.

On the restart, Valletta tried to save the match and were unlucky when, in the third minute of stoppage time, Denni’s angled drive shook the upright.

Melita ended the match with 10 men when Michael Valencia was shown a second yellow card for dissent. But that didn’t matter for the Amateurs as they held out for a famous win.

Melita
G. Gabilondo Garcia-6, J. Vukanic-7, M. Sierra Camacho-7.5, I. Tufegdzic-6.5, G. Gribbon-7.5, M. Martin-6, A. Caruana Scicluna-6 (87 J.P. Attard), M. Valenzia, L. Micallef-7.5, J. Galea-6, L. Sammut-6 (73 M. Attard).

Valletta
M. Bartolo-6, D. Falzon-5.5, Ricardo-6 (64 J. Ogunnuppe-5), W. Barbosa-6 (67 M. Mifsud-5), E. Agius-5, I. Zammit-6.5, Leandro-6 (50 Gabriel-5.5), Denni-6,I. Azzopardi-5.5, R. Fenech-6.5, K. Magro-5.

Referee: Esther Azzopardi.

Yellow cards: Valenzia; Caruana Scicluna; Gabilondo Garcia; Sammut; Galea.

Red card: Valenzia (M) 90.

BOV player of the match: George Gribbon (Melita).

Attendance: 625.

Standings

  P W D L F A Pts
Hibernians 15 10 1 4 33 18 31
Valletta 15 8 5 2 31 12 29
Birkirkara 15 8 5 2 30 16 29
Tarxien 15 8 3 4 30 23 27
Sliema 15 8 2 5 27 16 26
Mosta 15 8 1 6 27 16 25
Floriana 15 5 5 5 23 21 20
Balzan 15 5 4 6 24 26 19
Qormi 15 5 2 8 20 27 17
Ħamrun 15 3 4 8 20 35 13
Melita 15 2 3 10 15 44 9
Rabat Ajax 15 0 5 10 9 35 5
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