Valletta 1
Pietà Hotspurs 0


Blending resilience with intelligent, quick-moving football, Valletta made light work of the early dismissal of their debutant English midfielder Craig Dean to gather three precious points in their quest to make the Championship Pool.

Their victims yesterday were a clueless Pietà Hotspurs team who were distinctly second best to their aggressive opponents for most of the match.

It was indeed mystifying how the Hotspurs, so desperately in need of three points to bolster their own salvation hopes, were so lethargic in their attacking forays but here credit goes to Valletta for keeping their composure in every respect, to stay on top of their adversaries.

As a reward for their bold effort, Valletta were able to savour a potentially decisive victory which lifts them to sixth in the standings, level on 17 points with Msida St Joseph.

By sharp contrast, defeat has all but killed Pietà's hopes of late Houdini act as far as the Championship Pool is concerned. The Hotspurs remain second from bottom with 11 points from 15 matches.

Valletta's determination to win this game was evident from the start. They threatened to storm ahead as early as the third minute.

Dean produced a telling cross from the left and in the direction of the unmarked Jonathan Bondin who was lurking near the far post. The Valletta midfielder's first-time volley was pushed away by goalkeeper Andrew Hogg but there remained a high dose of danger for the Hotspurs as the loose ball sailed towards Monesterolo only for the latter's shot to be diverted away by David Camenzuli.

Claims of handball by the City players were waved away by referee Adrian Casha.

Within three minutes, Monesterolo was driving dangerously through the box but his firm grounder was touched away by Hogg.

Monesterolo was assigned a striking role alongside skipper Gilbert Agius as Paul Zammit reverted to a straightforward 4-4-2 formation for this critical match.

Englishman Dean took up a midfield position on the right side of the central station occupied by the industrious Keith Fenech.

Georgi Deanov, the Pietà coach, set his mind on a 3-5-2 deployment in which Romanian Filip Marius figured wide on the left side of midfield and Zvetlan Kondev operated in the central zone.

The Citizens were the livelier side in the opening exchanges. A fine one-two between Agius and the energetic Renie Forace, very active on the left early on, saw the latter powering his way into the area but his cross-shot was cleared away for a corner by Andrew Decesare.

Having played a short pass to Fenech from the corner, Agius flitted into the open space in the inside-left channel to receive the return pass, skipped past Decesare on the edge of the area before directing an angled shot which whizzed just wide.

Valletta's early optimism looked to have been tainted on 27 minutes when Dean marred his debut by getting himself sent off after he looked to have lunged at Decesare in central midfield. The Pietà midfielder was booked for his initial foul on the fiery Englishman.

Zammit redeployed, withdrawing captain Agius into midfield and heaping more responsibility on the nippy Monesterolo by leaving him on his own up front.

Four minutes before the end of the first half, Pietà had to make their first and only substitution, defender Dean Gera coming on for the injured Carl Sammut.

In spite of their numerical superiority, the cautious Hotspurs rarely looked like exploiting their numerical advantage for the remainder of the first half.

The second period had just started when Chris Camilleri's free-kick was deflected away for a corner.

Shortly afterwards, Hogg trapped a swerving free-kick by Agius.

Six minutes after the restart, Valletta took a deserved lead. They were awarded a penalty after Hogg appeared to have tripped the speeding Agius inside the area. Massimo Grima kept his cool to despatch a rasping drive to Hogg's right.

Pietà's first significant attack came on 69 minutes when Kondev released Claudio Calleja on the right of the penalty area but the latter's rising shot from a tight angle flew high.

Fourteen minutes from the end of regulation time, Pietà defender Dominic Mifsud was relieved to see his clearance sail wide of Hogg's right-hand post after he had nipped in to intercept Monesterolo's dangerous chip towards the incoming Dylan Zarb.

The resultant corner saw Agius curling a dangerous cross-shot which Hogg tipped over the bar.

In added time, Zarb drifted menacingly into the box before serving Monesterolo whose attempt was deviated away for a corner.

In the dying moments, Pietà goalkeeper Hogg abandoned his goal to help his team's late attacking attempts but the Citizens held firm.

Valletta: S. Sullivan-6, K. Cassar-6 ('87 S. Pace), M. Grima-7, B. Nisevic-6.5, R. Forace-7, J. Bondin-7, K. Fenech-7, C. Dean, C. Camilleri-6 ('75 D. Zarb), G. Agius-8, S. Monesterolo-7 ('90 K. Magro).

Pietà: A. Hogg-7, B. Sciberras-6, D. Mifsud-6, M. Deanov-6.5, C. Calleja-5.5, C. Sammut-5 ('41 D. Gera-5), D. Camenzuli-7, S. Kondev-5, F. Marius-4, A. Decesare-5.5, R. Grech-4.

Referee: Adrian Casha.

Scorer: Grima 51 Pen.

Yellow Cards: Decesare; Sullivan; Gera; Mifsud; Calleja; Camilleri; Fenech; Sciberras; Bondin.

Red Card: Dean 27.

Bov Player Of The Match: Gilbert Agius (Valletta).


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