Valletta claimed the conceited rights in the first clash with Hamrun Spartans in more than three years as the champions beat Hamrun 3-0 to put their title bid back on track.
In the most attended match of the season in all MFA matches to-date, with well over 3000 spectators on the stands, the Citizens found it hard to penetrate the Hamrun defence and their win was not as easy as the scoreline might suggest, at least until the Hamrun team where reduced to ten men. The dismissal of Brazilian defender Jorginho for two yellow cards ended Hamrun’s hopes as Valletta took advantage to hit two more goals which saw them collect all three points.
Inside the opening four minutes, Valletta forward Jhonnattann sent in a teasing cross-shot from an angled free-kick but the Spartans repelled the danger.
The champions started brightly but Saturday Nanapere’s strong runs on the wing ensured that the Spartans carried a threat.
In Nanapere, the Spartans had an amalgam of power and speed on the wing. The Cameroonian cut inside Leandro Aguirre on the right but his effort was too weak to trouble Dziugas Bartkus, the Valletta goalkeeper.
Valletta responded with a fine move involving Falcone, Mifsud, Cremona and Jhonnattann whose cut-back from the left landed near Falcone but his shot was warded off by Jorginho.
Frederick Tabone, the Hamrun goalkeeper, then blocked Falcone’s weak acrobatic volley after the Argentine had connected with Romao’s assist.
There was another chance for Valletta when Jorginho’s clearance, following a strong incursion by Mifsud, again dropped to Falcone but he took a touch too many before seeing his attempt deflected wide.
Midway into the first half, Valletta went close to taking the lead. Jhonnattann’s free-kick, given for a foul by Teixeira on Claudio Pani, was palmed away by Tabone but Romao headed the loose ball goalwards, triggering a goalmouth scramble as Mifsud tried to get a touch to the ball but Vergara stood firm to clear.
On the stroke of half-time, Valletta won a penalty. Jhonnattann, who had been sent through by Falcone after good work by Alhinho, was felled by Tabone.
Referee Malcolm Spiteri and Jhonnattann sent his shot into the bottom corner to delight of the City fans.
Second best for much of the first half, the Spartans improved after the change of ends. Nanapere swept past Romao before serving Teixeira but his grounder was blocked. Bartkus denied the Spartans an equaliser, showing quick reflexes to paw the ball away after Ryan Camilleri had diverted Teixeir’s cross towards the near post.
Hamrun protested for a penalty when Mifsud Triganza appeared to have been pulled down by Borg but Spiteri saw nothing wrong, much to the dismay of the numerous Hamrun supporters.
The Spartans’ comeback hopes all but evaporated 17 minutes from the end when Jorginho’s verbal exchange with Pani earned him a second yellow card followed by the red. Pani was also cautioned. Further misery befell Hamrun as, two minutes later, Leandro Aguirre raced into the box from the left and fired past Tabone.
Valletta were now home and dry. They came close to increasing their advantage when Jhonnattann’s corner was deflected towards Jurgen Suda but the substitute flicked wide.
Jhonnattann, the player of the match, then set off on a sizzling run that took him past three players but his grounder was repelled by Tabone. The post denied Valletta a third goal as substitute Nicholas Pulis squared to Suda who sent his shot against the post but, seconds later, Jhonnattann punished more lax defending by the Spartans to increase his side’s winning margin.
VALLETTA Dziugas Bartkus, Romeu Romao, Leandro Aquirre, Valdo Alhinho Goncalves, Claudio Pani, Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao, Federico Matias Falcone (68’ Jean Borg), Ryan Camilleri, Steve Borg, Llywelyn Cremona (89’ Nicholas Pulis), Michael Mifsud (81’ Jurgen Suda).
Subs not used: Maverick Buhagiar, Ian Azzopardi, Leon Camilleri, Russel Fenech,
Coach: Paul Zammit
HAMRUN Fredrick Tabone, Glenn Azzopardi, Patrick Jean Teixeira Maia, Luke Sciberras, Luis Miguel Vergara Rodriguez, Saturday Nanapere, Jorge Mesqueu Neto, Leandro Wallace Motta dos Santos (67’ Massimiliano Giusti), Jake Grech, Sergio Raphael Dos Anjos Raphael, Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (85’ Rodney Refalo).
Subs not used: Matthew Farrugia, Mark Anthony Borg, Daren Falzon, Luke Grech, Philip Chircop.
Coach: Steve D’Amato
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri
Assistant Referees: William Debattista, Martin Borg
Fourth Official: Philip Farrugia
Yellow Cards: Jorginho, Aguirre, Tabone, Vergara, Romao, Pani
Red Cards: 74′ Jorginho
BOV Player of the Match: Jhonnattann Benites Da Conceicao
Attendance at the National Stadium: 3,201
Images courtesy of Tonio Magro