Hibernians signalled their intent to fight all the way for the title after seeing off the challenge of Balzan to join leaders Valletta on the 48-point mark with the latter having a game in hand.

Buoyed by Valletta's slip-up last weekend, Hibs were superior to Balzan with Brazilian playmaker Gilmar in inspirational form.

While the Hibs fans celebrated a crucial win, Balzan suffered a fatal blow to their title hopes as they are now five points behind the front duo.

Hibernians' strong start rattled Balzan with Gilmar causing havoc in the opposing defence with his movement.

Gilmar was inevitably involved when Hibs took the lead on 18 minutes as the Brazilian dispossessed Dylan Grima before passing to Jorginho who dashed past Samir Arab and curled the ball past the diving Ivan Janjusevic, the Balzan goalkeeper.

Janjusevic then tipped away a fierce drive from Gilmar but Hibs doubled their lead on 27 minutes. Balzan's appeals for a penalty after Elkin Serrano Valero went down in the box were waved away by referee Clayton Pisani and, from the ensuing counter-attack, Gilmar sped clear of Arab but his shot was beaten away by Janjusevic. The loose ball dropped to Jorge Santos Silva who fired home.

Balzan looked shell-shocked. Janjusevic pushed away another dangerous Gilmar corner. Balzan had their first notable chance in the final minutes of the second half but Alfred Effiong's drive, after the striker had held off Rodolfo Soares, was cleared away by Marcelo Dias.

Balzan tried to raise their game in the second but Hibs held firm. The champions all but made sure of the three points when, on the hour, Failla's cross from the left, eluded Janjusevic and Jorge scored with a back-heel.

Three goals down, Balzan grew increasingly tense.

Fenech's scrambled shot brought a routine save from Haber but Balzan struggled to make a reaction.

The game was as good as over.

Janjusevic partially blocked a Jorge effort after the latter had reached Gilmar's corner.

Gilmar than badly miscued his shot after being served by Jorginho but, four minutes from time, Balzan pulled one as Justin Grioli's thumping drive from the distance had the better of Haber.

Late on, Gilmar embarked on another terrific run but his shot was wide. Jurgen Degabriele did the same but that was of little importance as HIbs prevailed 3-1.

Jorge Santos Silva was named BOV player of the match.

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