Lumbilla crowns his debut with a hat-trick
Rabat Ajax 1
Felice 81 pen;
Ħamrun Spartans 3
Lumbilla 16, 19, 38 pen;
What looked a potentially tricky match for ailing strugglers Ħam-run Spartans unfolded into a one-sided encounter, particularly in the first half during which Stefan Sultana’s Reds scored three times to dash any hopes Rabat Ajax might have had of breaking their duck with a first victory in the Premier League.
New signing Loic Lumbilla Kandja proved an instant hit at Ħamrun as the French forward struck a hat-trick to leave the Magpies dazed.
Rabat did show signs of recovery in the second half but the game had long been won and lost by then. Victory saw Ħamrun halting a negative streak of eight consecutive defeats and open a three-point gap over second-bottom Melita.
Sultana had two new foreigners in his team, Lumbilla and Bledjon Guga, the Albanian defender who turned out for Balzan last season. The former was the attacking spearhead of a fluid 4-3-3 with Ryan Spiteri and the returning Terence Vella granted freedom to probe for openings on the flanks.
Rabat sat back in a 3-5-2 module, which really was looking like a 5-3-1-1, letting Ħamrun have the ball wide but keeping a solid line with Partick Borg, Clive Brincat and Ivan Carapic in a central position.
Diego Carrillo was given roaming duties along chief forward Josè Armaro Negrin.
Jonathan Azzopardi, the Rabat keeper, confidently dealt with David Camilleri’s free-kick on the quarter of the hour mark but the Spartans put their noses in front a few seconds later when, Gian-luca Calabretta’s cross was deflected towards the far post where Ryan Spiteri sent his header goalwards. His effort was partially stopped by Azzopardi but Lumbilla was on hand to pounce on the loose ball and hit low inside the net.
Barely three minutes later, Lumbilla doubled Ħamrun’s lead. Vella found space on the right as he outsprinted Brincat before squaring to the unmarked Frenchman who flicked home with ease.
David Azzopardi picked out Carillo inside the Ħamrun box but his effort was kept out by Andrea Cassar as Rabat coach Silvio Vella effected his first substition, bringing on midfielder Manuel Fuster for Joseph Caruana to add more flair to his side.
Rabat’s gameplan remained unchanged however as the Spartans maintained a stranglehold on the game with the lethargic Magpies failing to summon a reaction.
Their problems were all over the pitch, the travails reflected in the long distances between the three departments and the fact that their defence not watertight.
And Ħamrun heaped further embarrassment on their opponents on 38 minutes.
Vella, again, unsettled the Rabat defence with a teasing ball into the box for Lumbilla who was hauled down to the ground by the onrushing goalkeeper.
Lumbilla picked himself up to plant the penalty beyond a dispirited Azzopardi.
At this point, the Rabat coach tried to address his team’s impotence by introducing Gaetano Gesualdi for the anonymous Borg, switching to a more conventional 4-4-2.
Seven minutes into the second half, racing on to Carrillo’s long pass, Negrin galloped towards goal but keeper Anthony Curmi, who came in for the unfit Andrea Cassar, was first to the ball only for his clearance to glance off the Spaniard but the ball finished just wide.
The game was over as a contest but Rabat tried to step up their efforts to make a fight out of it. Carrillo’s piledriver, on 75 minutes, was cleared off the line by Guga.
Nine minutes from time, Rabat pulled one back as they were awarded a penalty after Luke Grech tripped Carillo in the box. Justin Felice drilled his shot past Curmi to narrow the deficit.
Carillo was very much at the heart of Rabat’s belated efforts to re-open the issue but the Reds held tight.
In the dying minutes, Carillo served Negrin who hit a firm drive but it finished inside the side-netting.
J. Azzopardi-5, I. Carapic-5.5, J. Caruana-5 (28 M. Fuster-5.5), J. Felice-5, J. Armaro Negrin-6, D. Falzon-5, P. Borg-4 (43 G. Gesualdi-5), C. Brincat-4.5, D. Carrillo Pendas-6.5, D. Azzopardi-5, C. Gauci-5.
A. Cassar-5 (33 A. Curmi-6), R. Fenech-6, G. Calabretta-6.5, R. Spiteri-6.5 (64 C. Cassar-5), A. Borg-6, D. Camilleri-7.5, L. Grech-5, D. Zerafa-6, T. Vella-7 (76 A. Micallef), B. Guga-6.5, L. Lumbilla Kandja-8.
Referee: Clayton Pisani.
Yellow cards: P. Borg, Azzopardi, Camilleri.
BOV player of the match: Loic Lumbilla Kandja (Ħamrun Spartans).