Birkirkara do just enough to fend off Qormi challenge
Joselito 26; Jhonnattann 37;
Birkirkara rediscovered their winning touch after producing an efficient display to see off Qormi in a balanced match yesterday.
Profligacy in front of goal had been Birkirkara’s main concern in recent outings, one which resulted in a shock elimination at the hands of the same Qormi in the FA Trophy last month. That was followed by a goalless draw against Sliema Wanderers which cost the team priceless points in the title race.
Yesterday, it looked like the Stripes had learnt their lesson well as they made the most of the scoring chances that came their way in the opening 45 minutes to surge into a commanding two-goal lead following fine strikes from their Brazilian forwards Joselito and Jhonnattan.
Qormi came back strongly after the break though, only to find a solid Birkirkara rearguard in their way. In the end, the Yellow-Blacks, with no chance of top-six football this season, only had a late Alfred Effiong goal to show for their efforts.
By virtue of this win the Stripes bridged the gap with leaders Valletta to two points, albeit the Citizens have a game in hand.
Qormi’s Relegation Pool fate was already sealed before kick-off following Sliema’s win over Ħamrun Spartans in the opening match.
They might have left Ta’ Qali without a point in the bag but coach Jesmond Zerafa will have seen enough to believe that Qormi can remain competitive in the second part of the season, particularly in the FA Trophy through which they can obtain qualification to European football next season.
Birkirkara made five changes from the team that drew against Sliema last week.
Joselito was handed his first start since his long rehabilitation from an ankle injury as Nigerian striker Shola Shodiya Haruna paid the price for a series of missed chances in his team’s last outing as he had to sit on the bench.
Nikola Vukanac, Jhonnattann, Yosimar Hernandez and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza were all in the starting formation as Rowen Muscat and Ryan Camenzuli were injured while Alejandro Mendoza, Rodrigo Pereira and Edward Herrera started among the substitutes.
Zerafa made just one change as Duncan Pisani was awarded a starting berth in the absence of Abubakar Bello-Osagie who joined Valletta on Thursday, the last day of the winter transfer window.
Qormi looked confident in the early stages. After only three minutes, Edison Bilbao Zarate unleashed a powerful drive from the distance but the shot flew just over.
Birkirkara hit back four minutes later. Joselito sent a teasing ball into the path of Jhonnattann whose diving header was somehow kept out by Matthew Farrugia, the Qormi goalkeeper. From the rebound, Hernandez’s effort was blocked by Kris Thackray.
The Stripes surged ahead on 26 minutes when the in-form Paul Fenech let loose a scorcher from outside the area that Farrugia failed to hold.
In came Joselito whose first attempt was blocked by the goalkeeper but the Brazilian managed to bundle the ball home with his second attempt.
As the minutes passed by, the match became more physical with rash challenges at both ends affecting the flow of play.
The monotony was broken eight minutes from the break when Birkirkara added a second goal.
Mifsud Triganza showed great vision in sending a precise through-ball towards Jhonnattann who was clean through and coolly stabbed the ball past Farrugia.
A minute from the break, Qormi should have pulled a goal back when Effiong released Zarate who sped past Justin Haber but took too much time to conclude and was eventually closed down by Vukanac.
On the restart, Zerafa looked to add more firepower to his forward line when he roped in Moises Avila-Perez and Leighton Grech, who both were on the books of Birkirkara last season. Roderick Sammut and Joseph Chetcuti lost their place in the team.
Qormi bossed the initial stages of the second half but their dominance only produced a series of long balls.
Goalkeeper Haber was up to the task to avert any danger.
Stripes coach Paul Zammit then added more protection to his backline when he withdrew Hernandez with Mendoza coming on as his replacement.
Qormi threatened on 65 minutes when Jonathan Bondin slid the ball into the path of Avila-Perez who burst through, beat Haber but his inviting centre found no takers and Vukanac booted upfield.
With his side struggling to create any danger up front, Zammit replaced the tiring Joselito with Shodiya 19 minutes from time.
The Nigerian soon made his presence felt as, five minutes later, he got on the end of a Jhonnattann free-kick but saw his header stopped by Farrugia.
Twelve minutes from time, Qormi created their best chance so far when Grech swept past Zerafa before squaring the ball to Avila-Perez who produced a back-heel but Haber was on the alert to paw the ball away.
However, the Birkirkara goalkeeper could do nothing to stop Qormi from pulling one back 10 minutes from time.
Thackray’s through-ball found Effiong on the right spot and he beat Haber with an unstoppable shot that flew into the net.
That goal spurred Qormi to push more men forward but Birkirkara held tight and repelled all their opponents’ frantic attacks to preserve victory.
M. Farrugia-6, K. Thackray-6.5, R. Sammut-5 (46 L. Grech-6), A. Effiong-7, J. Chetcuti-5 (46 M. Avila-Perez-6), L. Sciberras-6, M. Gauci-6, E. Bilbao Zarate-6.5, D. Pisani-6, J. Bondin-6, S. Wellman-6.
J. Haber-7, Z. Muscat-6, J. Zerafa-6, P. Fenech-7.5, N. Vukanac-7, G. Sciberras-6, J.P. Mifsud Triganza-6.5 (77 E. Herrera), R. Scicluna-6, Joselito-6.5 (71 S. Shodiya Haruna), Jhonnattann-6.5, Y. Hernandez-6 (58 A. Mendoza-6).
Referee: Kevin Azzopardi.
Yellow cards: Jhonnattann; Zerafa; Zarate; Fenech; Wellman; Effiong; Sciberras; Muscat; Bondin.
BOV player of the match: Paul Fenech (Birkirkara).