Birkirkara end City's title hopes
A first-half goal from Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza proved enough for Birkirkara to overcome rivals Valletta and keep their title bid on track.
Billed as a title clash after Valletta had dragged themselves back into contention following successive draws by their opponents, Birkirkara showed character and composure as they produced an organised performance to defeat Valletta who are now out of the title race.
At the final whistle, the Birkirkara fans were euphoric while those on the bench ran on to the pitch to celebrate a victory that significantly improved their title chances as the Stripes are now three points clear of Hibs who, after their clash with Mosta tomorrow, meet Valletta in their final match.
Birkirkirkara had been the better team in the first half, taking a merited lead nine minutes from half-time, but Valletta hit back strongly after the change of ends. They hit the woodwork twice and had a goal disallowed as the Stripes defended grimly.
Valletta coach Mark Miller made one change from the 3-1 win over Tarxien Rainbows as striker Michael Mifsud replaced Dyson Falzon.
Birkirkara were boosted by the return of four key players as Rodrigo Pereira, Alejandro Mendoza, Paul Fenech and Rowen Muscat who missed the 0-0 draw with Mosta because of suspension.
A sizeable crowd gathered at the National Stadium to see this eagerly-awaited clash between two title rivals with the Valletta fans occupying the Millennium Stand and those of Birkirkara taking over the Enclosure.
The two teams took a while to get going but Birkirkara's organisation gave them a clear edge as the first half wore on.
Mifsud's shot was easily blocked by Justin Haber while Yenz Cini, the Valletta goalkeeper, blocked a dangerous effort from Edward Herrera, a dynamic figure on the right wing.
Denni's cross after three minutes found no takers as Valletta shaded the early exchanges. A through-pass from Denni set Mifsud on a run but the latter's weak shot posed no trouble to Justin Haber.
Luke Dimech saved Valletta from a dangerous situation when belting the ball away from Mendoza after Nikola Vukanac nodded Fenech's free-kick into the six-yard box.
Scoring chances were few and far between in the opening half-hour but Birkirkara were the better team. They took a deserved nine minutes from half-time when Herrera, enterprising on the right, played an excellent cross that was headed on by Haruna with Mifsud Triganza hitting past Cini.
Four minutes from the end of the first half, Fenech, the Valletta midfielder, set off on a surging run through the middle but his shot was deflected away for a corner.
Two minutes into the second half, Mifsud's fierce drive from the edge of the box whistled past the near post.
Miller then made his first substitution, introducing Roderick Briffa for Edmond Agius.
Birkirkara should have increased their lead when the excellent Herrera powered his way into the box before passing to Mifsud Triganza who blasted over from point blank.
Valletta also had a chance to level but Denni's piledriver from the distance hit the crossbar. Abubakar Bello-Osagie blasted over following a melee in the Birkirkara box.
Mario Apap, the Gozitan referee chosen to control this needle match, waved away Valletta's appeals for a penalty after Denni went down when challenged by Mendoza.
City continued to attack, Mifsud heading over from Bello-Osagie's cross. They came closer when William Barbosa's cross from a free-kick flew into the box and Denni's header cannoned off the crossbar.
Sensing his team's difficulties to cope with Valletta, Zammit effected a double substitution, Ryan Scicluna and Jhonnattann coming on for Mifsud Triganza and Haruna respectively.
Valletta thought they had drawn level when Vandelannoite headed the ball home from Barbosa's cross but Apap, who initially looked to have given the goal, ruled that there had been a foul in the box.
Mifsud then missed a great chance to equalise. Receiving a pass from Denni, Mifsud was unchallenged in the box but his effort was stopped by Haber.
Valletta couldn't believe their luck when Daniel Bogdanovic, who had come on for Bello-Osagie, had a goalbound effort deflected past the far post after Demba Toure, another late substitute, had freed the Malta forward.
Birkirkara's Herrera was voted BOV player of the match.