Qormi turn tables on 10-man Melita with two late goals
Tufegdzic 71 og; Avila-Perez 89;
Heartened by their 3-2 defeat of Qormi in the first round, Melita looked intent on pulling off another upset against the same opponents yesterday.
They produced the better stuff in the opening stages and took a deserved lead to secure a much-needed tonic after their dispirited showings of late but their tendency to self-destruct once again led to their downfall as the dismissal of Karl Vella Petroni late in the first half changed the complexion of the game.
Until Vella Petroni’s exit, Qormi had failed to justify their favourites’ tag as they were outfought by the energetic Melita but, with a man to the good, they assumed total control in the second half with Edison Bilbao Zarate, Kris Thackray and man-of-the-match Leighton Grech leading the onslaught.
Qormi effectively camped in Melita’s half but still made heavy weather of breaking down their opponents’ dogged resistance as the Amateurs showed resilience in the face of adversity.
But, Vella Petroni’s red card, for two unnecessary infringements, clearly left Melita facing a herculean task and Qormi had the last laugh with two goals in the last 19 minutes to take their tally to 30 points, meaning that they will start the Relegation Pool with 15.
With an eight-point lead over second-bottom Melita, Qormi already look home and dry in so far as the relegation issue is concerned.
Qormi’s second-half showing yesterday, albeit against depleted opponents, will strengthen their optimism of finishing top of the Relegation Pool but their performance in the first half left a lot to be desired.
Not for the first time this season, Melita left the field ruing their ill-luck after succumbing to a late goal while a visibly distraught Patxi Salinas had a word with referee Chris Lautier before heading for the dressing rooms.
Salinas’s frustration was understandable but the Spanish coach is likely to take heart from his team’s plucky display ahead of their impending Relegation Pool battles.
The suspended Andrew Caruana Scicluna was replaced by Matthew Borg while Spanish striker Daniel Cabanillas Aylon received Salinas’s nod to start ahead of Jorge Veloso.
Melita stuck with 4-4-1-1 with Cabanillas operating behind Luke Micallef in attack.
With Nigerian striker Alfred Effiong and Jonathan Bondin ruled out by suspension, Qormi coach Jesmond Zerafa handed a start to midfielder Christian Cassar and Spanish forward Moises Avila-Perez.
Those were not the only changes in Qormi’s line-up from the 2-1 defeat to Birkirkara as goalkeeper Steve Sultana and Leighton Grech were also awarded a starting role ahead of Matthew Farrugia and Roderick Sammut.
The two central midfield roles in Qormi’s 4-2-3-1 formation were occupied by Cassar and Luke Sciberras as Zarate was granted freedom to push up through the middle in support of Avila-Perez.
It was Melita who created a glimmer of a chance after eight minutes when Cabanillas cut in from the right but his rising shot flew over.
Qormi’s attacking threat in the opening 15 minutes was negligible. They had a Thackray free-kick which sailed over the bar.
Showing more intent and urgency than they had in their recent outings, Melita held their own in the early exchanges.
The Amateurs came close to taking the lead around the 20th-minute mark when Micallef turned this way and that to squeeze his way past a posse of Qormi players but his grounder was saved by Sultana.
Micallef then caught the attention for the wrong reasons as he was booked for diving despite Melita’s protests that their striker had been pushed.
The Amateurs remained the brisker side with Micallef’s unrelenting movement a cause of concern for the Qormi defenders.
The industry of Michael Martin, Luke Sammut and Borg ensured that Melita took control of midfield as the likes of Zarate and Cassar were allowed little time and space on the ball.
When the deadlock was broken on 34 minutes, it was no surprise that it was Melita who took the lead.
George Gribbon laid the groundwork as his cross from the right was nodded on by Micallef towards Cabanillas who flicked the ball home.
Cabanillas’s goal ought to have galvanised Melita’s fragile confidence but an act of petulance by Vella Petroni three minutes from half-time left them facing an uphill battle.
Having been cautioned for time-wasting as he prepared to take a free-kick, Vella Petroni appeared to sarcastically applaud the referee who promptly fetched the red card to dismiss him.
It was the second game in a row that Melita had a player sent off after Caruana Scicluna was shown a straight red card for swearing in the defeat to Mosta.
Salinas instructed his team to play 4-4-1 after Vella Petroni’s sending-off. Qormi were now expected to take the game by the scruff of the neck and make their numerical advantage count.
Their hopes of an equaliser grew when Joseph Chetcuti’s through-ball reached Zarate inside the box but the Chilean’s drive flashed against the outside of the near post.
Qormi’s numerical supremacy prompted Zerafa to alter his tactical gameplan, switching to a three-man defence with Thackray pushed into midfield after Cassar had made way for Sammut, a defender.
Midway into the second half, Thackray surged into the box from the right before squaring to Avila-Perez who was closed down by Gribbon.
Melita were now defending deep but in so doing they ceded all the initiative to Qormi. Zarate went close with a low strike but, 19 minutes from time, Qormi made it 1-1.
Grech dragged in a low cross from the right and Melita goalkeeper Guillermo Garcia pushed it out but the ball hit Tufegdzic and rolled back into the net.
Tufegdzic almost committed a second own goal when he miscued his clearance from Grech’s effort but Garcia was alert to push the ball away for a corner.
The Melita goalkeeper then saved a close-range header by Grech from Chetcuti’s corner.
Qormi’s siege showed no signs of abating with Sciberras hitting over from the distance after Melita had partially cleared Chetcuti’s corner.
Four minutes from time, Qormi thought they had grabbed the winner when Grech, an enterprising figure on the right wing, picked out Sammut in the box and the latter’s first-time volley soared above Garcia but the ball crashed against the underside of the crossbar and dropped on the goal-line.
Melita’s relief was palpable but, in their next foray, Qormi struck.
The build-up and execution were excellent as Zarate raced clear on the left before delivering a perfect cross that was met by Avila-Perez whose bullet header gave Garcia no chance.
G. Garcia-6.5, M.R. Sierra Camacho-6, K. Vella Petroni, G. Gribbon-7, I. Tufegdzic-6.5, M. Martin-6.5, N. Rizzo-6, L. Sammut-6.5 (73 M. Valenzia-5), D. Cabanillas Aylon-6 (61 J. Veloso, 80 R. Alhinho), L. Micallef-6.5, M. Borg-6.
S. Sultana-6, K. Thackray-6.5, J. Chetcuti-6, M. Avila-Perez-6, L. Sciberras-6, M. Gauci-5.5, E. Bilbao Zarate-7, D. Pisani-5.5 (85 M. Bartolo), C. Cassar-5 (59 R. Sammut-6) S. Wellman-6, L. Grech-7 (90 A. Cassar).
Referee: Chris Lautier.
Yellow cards: Micallef; Vella Petroni; L. Sammut; Borg; R. Sammut.
Red card: Vella Petroni (M) 42.
BOV player of the match: Leighton Grech (Qormi).