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De Pina reignites Hibs' challenge

Hibernians 1
De Pina 33
Qormi 0

Champions Hibernians reignited their title challenge after battling past Qormi in a hard-fought encounter.

Portuguese striker Miguel Lopes de Pina grabbed the all-important goal for the Paolites, his first in the Premier League. However, the real protagonist in Hibs' first victory in six matches was schemer Andrew Cohen.

The Malta international was again at his best as his deft touches and excellent distribution of the ball caused several problems to the Qormi defence. But, this was a collective effort from the champions who finally displayed some of the form that saw them winning the title last season.

Although the Paolites still have ample room for improvement, coach Mark Miller now has a solid starting point on which he can build his team's ascendancy towards higher positions.

A notable presence on the Hibs bench yesterday was Nigerian-born Ndubisi Chukunyere, but, Miller was without wingback Edward Herrera who was serving a one-match ban while Ryan Camilleri was still sidelined with a knee injury.

Qormi coach Jesmond Zerafa almost had a full squad at his disposal with Stephen Wellman forced to sit out as he was serving a one-match ban.

Prior to kick-off, the Qormi players displayed a poster in memory of club fans Fredu Stellini and Damian Agius who lost their lives in a fireworks factory blast earlier this week.

It was Qormi who threatened first after nine minutes when Alfred Effiong released Matthew Bartolo whose rising shot finished over.

That was the only action worthy of note in the opening 25 minutes as both teams looked short in ideas with play resulting mostly in midfield.

Hibs finally threatened on 26 minutes when Cohen exchanged ball with Barbara before firing a shot from the distance that fell a whisker away from goal.

The stalemate was broken on 33 minutes. From a Cohen free-kick, Lopes de Pina was first to the ball and headed past the diving Matthew Farrugia.

The goal lifted the Paolites who came close to a second on 40 minutes but Cohen's grounder rolled wide.

At the other end, Bartolo came close for Qormi but his deflected shot was easily dealt with by Mario Muscat, the Hibs goalkeeper.

Qormi surged forward in attack after the break and Camilo reached a Joseph Farrugia corner but his attempt fell off target. Hibs hit back with a Cohen inswinger that was pushed away by Farrugia.

The Qormi keeper again came to his side's rescue on 53 minutes when he palmed away another menacing drive from Cohen.

Twenty minutes into the second half, Hibs were awarded a free-kick. Cohen's delivery found Christian Callejas on the right spot but his header lacked precision.

Zerafa then withdrew Stefan Giglio and roped in Keith Fenech as he looked to add more steel to his team's midfield.

And Qormi came close to an equaliser on 76 minutes when Massimo Grima's shot was half-parried by Muscat. From the rebound substitute Steve Meilak was again thwarted by the Hibs no.1.

The Yellows stepped up the pressure in the final stages but Hibs showed great tactical organisation at the back to hold on to their lead.

Hibernians: M. Muscat-7, J. Caruana-6, A.Pulis-6, A. Xuereb-6, C. Callejas-6, J. Pearson-5.5, E. Barbara-6, A. Cohen-8, M. Lopes de Pina-6.5 ('85 B. Camilleri), E. Morelato-6 ('60 T. Caruana-6), Y. Cauchi-6.5.

Qormi: M. Farrugia-6, R. Dos Santos-6.5, R. Sammut-6, D. Pisani-6, J. Bondin-5.5, M. Grima-5.5, J. Farrugia-5 ('77 R. Deguara), M. Bartolo-5.5 ('67 S. Meilak-5), S. Giglio-5 ('70 K. Fenech-5), Camilo-5.5, A. Effiong-5.5.

Referee: Clayton Pisani.

Yellow cards: Cauchi, Morelato, Grima, Effiong, Muscat, Camilleri.

BOV Player of the match: Andrew Cohen (Hibernians).

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