Balzan climb to top of standings
HIBERNIANS 0 BALZAN 2
Balzan struck an early psychological blow and stole an early march on their rivals as they beat Hibernians 2-0 to climb at the top of the standings.
Hibs had the bulk of the clean openings. They had no fewer than three efforts, a shot of which glanced off the post and indeed with more steadiness in their finishing they could have dealt the killer blow on their opponents.
Spiteri’s side flew out of the blocks, testing the resilience of Hibernians’ rock-solid defence with a series of early raids.
In the 20th minute, Micallef, put through by Nafti went close with a diagonal shot during Balzan’s opening dominant spell but Hibs weathered the early storm.
Then Bjorn Kristensen had to go off for treatment to a head wound after a collision with an opponent and returned heavily bandaged, only to leave the pitch few moments later, substituted by Juan Varela. At this point, Miller was forced to tweak his formation with the Argentine deployed as a lone striker and Degarbriele playing behind him.
Just before the break, Effiong bore down on the right flank before playing in Kaljevic but the Balzan striker was anticipated by Soares.
Hibernians plucked up the courage and a lightning burst by Telles Pimenta should have produced the lead. The nippy winger embarked on a mazy run through the middle before unleashing an unstoppable swerving shot which crashed against the angle of post and crossbar before Mbong laid the rebound at the far post where Varela stood unmarked but the latter dragged his effort incredibly wide.
The fire and brimstone of the Paolities in the second half was in stark contrast with Balzan’s dull and slow movement on the ball. Most of the pressure was now on Balzan’s fort. In the 64th minute, Hibernians would have opened the score, were it not for Janjusevic who touched Varela’s looping header over the bar.
On the other side, Effiong was thwarted by a timely tackle from Soares when the Malta striker was about to pull the trigger. The Paolites’ goalkeeper blocked on the generous Paul Fenech but generally Balzan hardly looked likely to break the deadlock.
Elkin Serrano almost committed an own goal, ten minutes from time, when his clearance from Degarbiele’s header finished just wide much to the relief of Janjusevic who remained stranded.
Balzan battled to stay in touch until the 84th minute when they were presented with a sting in the tail in the shape of a penalty. Clayton Failla floored Kaljevic charging down the box. The striker picked himself up, showing ice-cold composure to send Briffa the wrong way.
At death, Effiong put undeserved gloss to Balzan’s win, profiting from Hibs’ flat-out approach to sweep past the onrushing Briffa.