Amateurs continue to hope as Cabanillas Ayllon nets winner
Ħamrun Spartans 0
Cabanillas Ayllon 33;
Patxi Salinas seems to have settled down nicely in the Maltese Premier League as yesterday the Melita Spanish coach plotted another getaway against all odds for the Amateurs to further enhance their hopes of extending their stay in the top flight by another season.
A superb goal from a free-kick, taken by Spaniard Daniel Cabanillas Ayllon, landed Melita their third win of the season in a basement clash against Ħamrun Spartans.
The great escape might be a long way to go but the Melita fans’ joy at the end of the match reflected a belief which has developed during a run that has seen the side take seven points from their last three matches.
The improvement has come largely through Salinas’s all-round football teachings and to encourage his players to express themselves despite a lack of experience in top-flight football.
It was again a sound rearguard display, nourished by excellent covering, particularly of Ivan Tufegdzic and Manuel Ramon Sierra Camacho, which time and again foiled the frantic Ħamrun forwards in their offensive play.
On top of that there was also Guillermo Gabilondo Garcia in goal, an imposing figure that grew taller and taller as the game progressed.
Cabanillas Ayllon scored the winning goal that perfectly epitomised the two teams’ form... Melita looking sharp in front of goal as Ħamrun were rather poor in that final third.
The Spartans have flirted with relegation on many an occasion these past few years but they always managed to avoid the drop.
They have now dragged themselves back in the red zone yet again and, judging on this display, it will take them a huge effort to stave off the drop threat yet again.
A depressing start to the season in which Ħamrun’s bid for a Championship Pool berth never really got off the ground, prompted the club’s chiefs to embark on an overhaul of the squad.
The three foreign players who turned out for the Reds this season, namely Lyubomir Vitanov, Anton Vergilov and Angel Yoshev, have not been retained while Terence Vella and Andrea Cassar were yesterday both suspended.
With no foreign players at his disposal, coach Stefan Sultana named an all-Maltese line-up that featured a clutch of home-grown talent with Ayrton Micallef making his first-team debut.
The Spartans lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Massimo Grima playing in front of a bank of defenders and Ryan Spiteri alone up front with David Camilleri, Ayrton Micallef, Luke Grech and Gianluca Calabretta handed instructions to break forward each time the team attacked.
George Gribbon was Melita’s holding midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 formation which was spearheaded by Cabanillas Ayllon and Luke Micallef.
Ħamrun enjoyed the edge possession-wise as Sultana’s troops produced the better football early on. However, their efforts were undone by their lack of cohesion in their opponents’ territory.
They could have nosed ahead after just five minutes when Camilleri’s right-wing cross sailed towards Grima who met the ball with a powerful header that finished just over the bar.
On another occasion, a few moments later, Spiteri headed inside the Melita side-netting.
Play remained of the helter-skelter type although both teams had a good chance to open the scoring in those early stages of the match.
Tufegdzic’s header smacked against the upright with goalkeeper Anthony Curmi quickly clearing the ball away on seven minutes.
At the other end, 10 minutes later, Camilleri got to the byeline down the right and crossed for Grima whose header was cleared off the line by the alert Tufegdzic.
The scoreboard marked 33 minutes when Daniel Zerafa sent Michael Martin crashing after a dangerous incursion inside the Ħamrun half.
From the free-kick, Cabanillas Ayllon let fly a delightful left-foot strike that bent viciously away from Curmi’s despairing dive.
One goal down, Ħamrun reverted to a 4-3-3 module with attacking trident – Spiteri, Camilleri and Calabretta – shifting positions thus giving the Melita rearguard no point of reference.
Yet, the first half finished in the same pattern with the Spartans enjoying the lion’s share of possession but still unable to breach the well-drilled Melita defensive lines.
The first ripple after ends were changed came from Ħamrun.
Theirs was a straightforward gameplan – Camilleri delivering the ball inside the box as they sought to take advantage of the aerial strength of Grima. His header from a corner was stopped by Gabilondo Garcia.
At this point, Ħamrun introduced Christian Caruana, believed to be the last trump card up Sultana’s sleeve, to give thrust to their midfield.
With the former Floriana playmaker, a deep-lying passer, in the side, Grima was ordered to push high up to strengthen the Reds’ attack.
On the hour mark, Grima drew a fine save from Gabilondo Garcia who did well to keep out the free-kick as the goalkeeper emerged winner again from what developed into a personal duel against the Ħamrun powerhouse.
With the wind blowing behind his back, Camilleri tried a speculative volley from the halfway line but Gabilondo Garcia proved equal to the task.
Camilleri then swung in another dangerous-looking corner inside a packed Melita penalty area but the inviting ball from the Spartans veteran found no takers.
Ħamrun’s hopes of saving the match were scuppered by Manuel Ramon Sierra Camacho’s vital block on Grima deep into stoppage-time as Camilleri found time to send in another cross that arrived at Grima but his first attempt was stopped in time by Tufegdzic.
The loose ball again fell into Grima’s path but his effort was blocked miraculously on the line by the Amateurs’ defence.
Melita held on for the last few seconds of the match to preserve their slim lead and register a second win in three matches.
The Amateurs have now joined third-bottom Spartans on the 13-point mark.
A. Curmi-6, R. Fenech-5, G. Cala-bretta-5, R. Spiteri-6, A. Micallef-5 (83 R. Refalo), M. Grima-7, A. Borg-5, D. Camilleri-7, L. Grech-5, D. Zerafa-4.5 (50 C. Cassar-4), G. Azzopardi-5.
G.G. Garcia-7, M.S. Camacho-7, I. Tufeg-dzic-7, G. Gribbon-5.5, M. Borg-5.5, A.C. Scicluna-5.5, L. Micallef-5.5 (81 M. Attard), M. Martin-5.5, J.P. Attard-6, D. Cabanillas Ayllon-6.5 (86 J.V. Lourido), T. Terpougoff-5 (69 K. Vella Petroni-4).
Referee: Chris Lautier.
Yellow cards: Tufegdzic, L. Micallef, Spiteri, Sierra Camacho, Camilleri.
BOV player of the match: David Camilleri (Ħamrun Spartans).