HIBERNIANS-4, BALZAN-0

A difficult test for Hibernians turned into a stroll as the leaders cruised to a 4-0 victory over fourth-placed Balzan who were hit hard by defender Elkin Serrano's red card 19 minutes into the second half.

Photo: Matthew MirabelliPhoto: Matthew Mirabelli

The Paolites again underlined their status as title favourites with another strong display that extended their unbeaten run in the league to 19 games, of which 18 have been wins.

Their latest success restored Hibs' 15-point lead at the top of the standings Hibs pressed forward from the outset.

After three minutes, Clayton Failla was wide with a curling free-kick.

The Paolites would have taken the lead but for a brilliant save from Steve Sultana who parried away Rodolfo Soares's point-blank flick from Failla's corner.

Andrew Cohen then unsettled the Balzan defence as the playmaker dashed past Luke Sciberras inside the box but his curling effort was high and wide.

Fifteen minutes into the game, Justin Grioli's, Balzan's right-back, tried his luck with a long-range screamer that sailed wide of the far post.

Hibs went close again when Brazilian Jorginho sped into the box after exchanging passes with Cohen but the Brazilian's ground was marginally wide.

The erstwhile outplayed Balzan finally created a good move on 24 minutes. Edison Zarate and Oscar Guerrero exchanged passes outside the box before releasing Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza but his shot was deflected away for a corner.

After a quiet start, Balzan improved. On one occasion, Mifsud Triganza supplied a pass into the box and Guerrero managed to force his way through but the Hibs defence defused the danger.

The Paolites had to wait until the 29th minute to produce another chance. Jorginho was first to a short clearance but his effort was wide.

Moments later, the Brazilian had a great chance to open the scoring as he sped clear to retrieve Edison's intelligent pass but Sultana denied him with another fine save. The loose ball fell to Edison but his dipper from outside the box was stopped by the Balzan keeper.

Hibs' pressure yielded an opener on 33 minutes. Cohen's set-piece cross, after Hibs won a free-kick near the byline, sailed into the six-yard box and Edison 'Tarabai' powered his header into the top corner.

Edison threatened again with another header from Cohen's corner but his attempt was cleared away by Samir Arab.

On the brink of half-time, Henry Bonello, the Hibs goalkeeper, did well to keep out Grioli's defence-splitting cross from a free-kick.

Early in the second half, Cohen's spinning free-kick came off the top of the crossbar.

Balzan staged a reaction. They appealed for a penalty when Mifsud Triganza ended on the turf after being challenged by Andrei Agius but referee Esther Azzopardi allowed play to continue.

Edison then flicked the ball to Piccioni but the Italian forward's cross was cut out by Agius.

Balzan's hopes were shattered when Hibs went 2-0 upon 58 minutes. Sultana fumbled Edison's free-kick and Cohen swooped on the loose ball to fire home.

Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri effected a double substitution, Lydon Micallef and Terence Agius replacing Mifsud Triganza and Sciberras respectively, but his afternoon took a turn for the worse when Colombian defender Elkin Serrano was sent off after earning his second booking for tripping Jorginho.

Jorginho hit wide after beating Bezzina to Edison's pass but he put his name on the scoresheet after concluding an excellent move involving the incoming Joseph Mbong and Edison five minutes from time.

Jurgen Degabriele, who had just come on for man-of-the-match Cohen, added a fourth late on after getting on the end of Failla's cross.

Hibs pushed for more. Jackson Lima hit the crossbar and, at the other end, Bonello blocked an effort from Piccioni.

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