Three-goal burst sends Reds reeling
Sliema Wanderers 3
Muchardi 47; Ohawuchi 48; Muscat 56;
Darmanin 51; Elton 79;
Sliema Wanderers found their scoring touch in the second half to leapfrog Tarxien Rainbows in fourth place on a better goal difference but the latter have a game in hand.
Sliema had the three points in their bags after 56 minutes when they struck three goals after the restart with new recruit Stanley Ohawuchi, a second-half sub-stitute, making an instant impact and getting on the act with an excellent solo strike.
Balzan only stayed in touch until half-time but then lacked that killing instinct to gain any points from this match.
Sliema’s initial line-up showed four changes from the 2-0 victory over Ħamrun Spartans. Glenn Zammit was among the notable absentees along with the suspended pair Mark Scerri and Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and injured defender Luca Martinelli.
Alfonso Greco gave second choice goalkeeper James Abela, who joined Sliema on loan from Mellieħa, his chance to shine.
On the plus side, the Italian coach was able to call on com-patriots Stefano Bianciardi and Luigi Ruggiero.
Brazilian defender Renato Conceicao and Bjorn Bondin were both suspended for Balzan while Pedrinho, Elie Moises, Renie Forace and Dylan Grima missed out through injury.
Nevertheless, Balzan, under the guidance of assistant coach Joe Borg as Ivan Zammit started a two-match touchline ban, were still able to field a strong line-up as they awarded first-team recalls to Ryan Darmanin, Christian Caruana, Yessous Camilleri and Matthew Mendy.
Balzan’s tactical gameplan was unchanged as Elton was given roaming duties behind chief forward Darmanin in a 5-3-2-cum 3-5-2 tactical module.
Sliema’s 4-2-3-1 formation featured Ian Zammit as the attacking fulcrum in front of Ivan Woods, Ruggiero and Matias Muchardi.
The Reds made an energetic start. Aboulezz tested waters with an angled drive that posed no trouble to Abela. On 21 minutes, Zammit guided a through-pass to Ruggiero but Martinez was alert to the danger. On the other side, Elton was wide with a free-kick.
Yet, Sliema remained the more enterprising side, exploiting the pace of their wingers to break forward. After 38 minutes, Ruggiero sent in a cross into the box and Zammit slipped his marker but failed to get a decent connection with the ball.
As the Wanderers laboured for creativity, Greco withdrew Rug-giero and brought on Ohawuchi at half-time. Sliema did raise their game and immediately forced a breakthrough.
Alex Muscat, who orchestrated the best moments for Sliema, released Muchardi who arrowed a shot on the turn into the top left corner.
Daniel Martinez’s goal was breached again one minute later when Ohawuchi’s dazzling skills were in abundant evidence as his polished footwork ran the Balzan ragged before beating the goal-keeper with a grounder.
Balzan pulled a goal back on 51 minutes as Darmanin broke free in the box from the right and beat Abela to make it 2-1.
But the Wanderers stayed in control. Woods delivered an inviting cross into the area where Muscat showed great coordination to control the ball before letting loose a fierce shot that beat Martinez.
The match was over as a contest even though 11 minutes from time Elton had reduced the deficit for Balzan when he made a surging run inside the Sliema half before hammering a diagonal shot behind Abela.
In stoppage time, Muchardi’s cross-shot from the right flashed past the far post with Ohawuchi arriving a trifle too late to make victory more resounding for his team.
J. Abela-5.5, A. Muscat-7, P. Barbetti-6, J. Mintoff-6, I. Zammit-6 (60 M. Ciantar-5), L. Ruggiero-5 (46 S. Ohawuchi-6.5), I. Woods-6, S. Bajada-5 (86 B. Muscat), J. Mifsud-6, M. Muchardi-7, S. Bianciardi-7.
D.M. Martinez-5, A. Agius-6 (88 G. Micallef), J. Borg-5, S. Giglio-5, Y. Camilleri-5, M. Mendy-4.5, J. Pace-5, F. Aboulezz-5, C. Caruana-5 (70 J. Francica-5), Elton-6, R. Darmanin-6.
Referee: Paul Caruana.
Yellow cards: Elton; Muchardi; Agius; Mintoff; Ohawuchi; Aboulezz; Mifsud; Francica.
BOV player of the match: Matias Muchardi ( Sliema Wanderers).