Darmanin strike thwarts Greens
After missing out on a place in the Championship Pool, Floriana and Balzan have set themselves the somewhat mundane target of finishing top of the Relegation Pool.
Their direct encounter yesterday was an opportunity to cement their position in the top part of the strugglers’ cohort and pull further clear of the bottom trio Ħamrun Spartans, Rabat Ajax and Melita.
For much of a low-key first half, Floriana and, to a lesser extent, Balzan did little to enhance their reputations in what has been a disappointing season so far as both looked erratic and devoid of inspiration.
Both needed to raise their performance after the break to banish the boredom and boost their chances of winning the three points. Balzan had been slightly the better side in the first half but Floriana were more assertive after the break.
In Brazilian forward Igor Coronado, Floriana have a player who, with his vision and skill, can change the course of the game.
It certainly looked that way when Coronado crowned a spell of Floriana pressure with an exquisite finish early in the second half but the game produced another twist as striker Ryan Darmanin returned to haunt his former team with a well-hit equaliser for Balzan.
The goals and a string of scoring chances ensured that the second half offered much more entertaining fare than its precursor with the 1-1 stalemate arguably a fair outcome that will have appeased both Balzan and Floriana.
Gary Roberts, back from suspension, replaced Owen Bugeja in the only change in Floriana’s initial XI from the 2-1 defeat of Melita.
Balzan coach Ivan Zammit, himself making a return to the dugout after completing a two-match touchline ban, recalled experienced duo Jamie Pace and Renato Conceicao at the expense of Bjorn Bondin and Firas Aboulezz who had to settle for a place on the bench.
It was not before the 12th minute that either side fashioned a ghost of a chance. Balzan defender Aaron Agius veered infield from the left before mustering a cross-cum-shot that ended just wide.
Balzan, who had a host of attacking players in their line-up, the likes of Ivorian striker Elie Moises N’Dekre, Darmanin and Chrisian Caruana – the latter two facing their former team – were slightly the more adventurous side in the opening stages.
Mediocrity prevailed for much of the first 25 minutes as the two sides struggled to find their passing rhythm with the result that the football on offer was generally disjointed.
The Greens fashioned their first chance on 21 minutes and it came from a familiar source as Coronado embarked on a good run through the middle but his shot was off target.
Six minutes later, Warner fisted away a dangerous Conceicao cross from a left-wing free-kick. Thankfully, the tempo of the game picked up as the first half progressed.
Caruana made headway on the left before squaring to Darmanin whose shot was too central to unnerve Warner.
With eight minutes of the first half remaining, N’Dekre’s teasing cross from the right dropped menacingly in the six-yard box but Warner managed to nudge the ball before Darmanin could cause further damage.
The Floriana goalkeeper was prominent again when pawing away Jacob Borg’s angled drive as Balzan continued to create the better opportunities.
Second best for much of the first half, Floriana beamed signs of improvement after the break. A good move by the erstwhile subdued Trevor Cilia was indicative of the Greens’ renewed efforts.
Deployed at right-back, Cilia showed glimpses of his old form nine minutes into the second half when he surged into the box from the right before unleashing a powerful drive that was parried away by Daniel Martinez, the Balzan keeper.
The loose ball sailed straight towards Cilia but he miscued his second attempt.
Revitalised by Brunskill’s half-time talk, Floriana continued to press forward.
Receiving a pass from Coronado a minute past the hour, Nwoko skipped past two challenges before hitting a low shot that grazed the near post.
It looked a matter of when not if Floriana would take the lead. They did that on 66 minutes when, in a swift breakaway, Brooke Farrugia lifted a floated pass towards Coronado who sprinted into the box, slipped past his marker and summoned an audacious chip that soared above the stranded Martinez and into the far corner of the net.
Floriana were now threatening to run riot but their momentum was jolted when Balzan snatched an equaliser 19 minutes from time.
Caruana released Darmanin who swivelled before arrowing a rising shot that beat Warner hands down.
Darmanin raised his arm in jubilation but refused to celebrate out of respect for his team-mates.
Buoyed by their goal, Balzan sought to regain the initiative.
Danger loomed for Floriana when Grima darted into the box from the right and supplied a dangerous cross that was cleared by the opposing defenders. The loose ball dropped to Caruana but his effort was blocked.
Reprieved, the Greens almost put their noses in front but Nwoko headed over from close range after meeting Cilia’s corner.
Balzan came agonisingly close to taking the lead five minutes from time.
Aboulezz dragged in a dangerous cross for a corner and Darmanin’s glancing header rattled the crossbar. Borg was first to the loose ball but his volley was deflected towards a post where Caruana tried to head home but his effort was warded off.
T. Warner-5, C. Tremarco-5, K. Farrugia-5, G. Roberts-6, T. Cilia-6, T. Paris-5, C. Borg-5.5, B. Farrugia-6, U. Nwoko-6.5, S. Pisani-6 (81 M. Spiteri), I. Coronado-7.5.
D. Martinez-5.5, A. Agius-5.5 (76 Y. Camilleri), J. Borg-6.5, M. Mendy-6, S. Giglio-6, D. Grima-6.5, J. Pace-6, R. Conceicao-5.5 (83 F. Aboulezz), C. Caruana-6.5, R. Darmanin-7, E. Moises N’Dekre-5 (88 R. Forace).
Referee: Kevin Azzopardi.
Yellow Cards: Roberts.
BOV Player of the match: Igor Coronado (Floriana).