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Galea hits KO punch

Birkirkara players and officials in jubilant mood after winning the FA Trophy final against Ħamrun Spartans. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Birkirkara players and officials in jubilant mood after winning the FA Trophy final against Ħamrun Spartans. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Ħamrun Spartans 1
Ryan Fenech 65
Birkirkara 2
M. Galea 59, 90

Michael Galea put a frustrating season behind him yesterday to inspire Birkirkara to victory in the U*Bet FA Trophy final, the concluding match of the 2007-08 season.

Injuries and personal commitments had prevented Galea from playing his customary prominent role for this youthful Birkirkara team in the league campaign but the experienced striker stepped up to the plate yesterday with a brace of goals that helped his side see off the dogged resistance of Ħamrun Spartans by the odd goal in three.

Perceived as slight favourites to taste KO glory for the fourth time in their history, Birkirkara dominated large swathes of possession yesterday but the prudent Spartans made it hard for their opponents to translate their territorial supremacy into clear-cut openings. The game was a soporific affair but the Stripes appeared to have taken a significant step towards victory when Galea put them ahead early in the second half.

Ħamrun refused to lie down though and when Ryan Fenech got them back on level terms six minutes after Galea's opener, their optimism of causing an upset and end their long wait for a major trophy increased by several notches.

As the end of the game drew closer, it looked as though Ħamrun's cautious gameplan was going to stretch the game into extra-time but Galea broke their hearts with a last-gasp winner to cap an extraordinary day for him and his family after his younger brother Julian earlier scored four goals in Melita's 5-1 win over Balzan Youths in the second and third division KO final.

Galea's brace rewarded the more adventurous Stripes and handed head coach John Buttigieg the first trophy of his burgeoning coaching career.

Birkirkara's success brought unbridled joy for their fans who went ecstatic when Galea lifted the FA Trophy that was presented to him by MFA president Joe Mifsud.

A colourful atmosphere reigned at the National Stadium throughout yesterday's final as the fans of Ħamrun and Birkirkara flocked to Ta' Qali to cheer on their favourites.

Marco Gerada, the Ħamrun coach, confirmed the same XI who eased their way into the final after an impressive 4-2 victory over Floriana in the semis. The one-match ban imposed on Danish defender Ron Hartvig obliged Birkirkara coach John Buttigieg to make one change from the team that swept past Valletta on Tuesday. Lee Lombardi was given the onus of deputising for Hartvig.

Scoring chances were scarce early on but Birkirkara would have seized the lead on 16 minutes but for a point-blank save from Sean Sullivan to parry George Mallia's header.

Ħamrun's attacking impact for much of the first 25 minutes had been as good as nil but in their first telling foray, they almost surprised the Birkirkara defence.

Aaron Attard's cross flew towards the centre where Spiteri managed to get his head to the ball before the steaming Bernard Paris but the Ħamrun striker's effort was deflected away for a corner.

With Ħamrun showing no inclination to deviate from their conservative approach, Birkirkara maintained the upperhand but they found it hard to expose chinks in the Spartans' defensive armoury.

Three minutes from half-time, Yantchev's cross soared above the leaping Roderick Fenech and into the path of Galea but his scrambled shot was diverted away for a corner.

Early in the second half, Galea headed over from Bajada's cross but 14 minutes after the restart, Birkirkara surged ahead.

Bajada whipped in a cross from a corner and Galea rose high to direct a powerful header towards goal. Sullivan looked as if he had parried Galea's close-range effort but the potency of the header had the better of the Ħamrun goalkeeper as the ball dropped beyond the goalline, albeit by a fraction, before Bratislav Timotic cleared. His attempt proved futile as Zammit instantly pointed to the centre-spot, much to the delight of the numerous Birkirkara fans.

The latter's joy was short-lived though as barely six minutes later Ħamrun drew level, Ryan Fenech beating Paris with a sweetly-struck free-kick after the Spartans captain had been fouled just outside the box.

Buttigieg's response to Ħamrun's goal was to introduce left-back Lino Galea for Thomas Paris.

The two-goal flourish may have helped to briefly enliven proceedings but scoring opportunities remained few and far between.

Just as it seemed that the game was heading for extra-time, Birkirkara delivered the coupe de grace a minute before the end.

Bajada was again the provider, sending over a dipping set-piece cross from the left and towards the far post where Michael Galea eluded the Spartans defence to nudge the ball past Sullivan and into the net.

FA Trophy winners

Sliema Wanderers 19 times
Floriana 18
Valletta 11
Hibernians 8
Ħamrun Spartans 6
Birkirkara 4
Melita 1
Rabat Ajax 1
Gżira United 1
Żurrieq 1

Ħamrun Spartans
S. Sullivan, P. Monye, A. Attard, Roderick Fenech, S. Meilak, Ryan Fenech, R. Mangion, N. Galea ('90 S. Sultana), B. Timotic, G. Spiteri, A. Effiong.

Birkirkara
B. Paris, T. Paris ('67 L. Galea), P. Fenech, M. Galea, A. Tabone, L. Lombardi, S. Bajada, J. Zerafa, D.A. Sylla ('90 J.P. Mifsud Triganza), G. Mallia, E. Yantchev.

Referee: Anton Zammit.

Yellow cards: Effiong; Attard; T. Paris; Spiteri; P. Fenech; Timotic.

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