Kyrian Nwoko took just nine minutes to decide the outcome of Saturday’s match between Valletta and Balzan.
But the solitary goal hardly tells the story of the match.
The Malta striker smashed home a stunning shot after pouncing to a loose ball in the opening exchanges of an eagerly-anticipated game between two sides who had made a winning start to the new season.
It was a game which could so easily have headed in any direction after Nwoko’s early contribution and Balzan must have felt unlucky to finish on the losing side after they battled superbly to stay in touch and had a hatful of chances of their own.
There were warning signs all over the pitch for Valletta earlier on, not least in the third minute when Uros Ljubomirac connected with Weverton Gomes’s left-wing cross but he thumped a shot against the underside of the bar.
The Citizens struggled to find their rhythm but a short clearance by Augustine Loof allowed them to open the scoring after nine minutes. Pouncing on that short clearance, Nwoko let fly a powerful drive that sailed past Sean Mintoff’s flailing hands and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Rowen Muscat did well to block a potentially dangerous throughball from Balzan’s Paul Fenech before a corner by Weverton was cleared with some difficulty by the Valletta defence.
The game opened up into an entertaining spectacle as each side pressed for goal.
Substitute Enmy Pena Beltre, who came in for injured Eslit Sala, fired goalwards but the ball was blocked off the line by Michael Johnson. Taylon, then, curled a shot across goal just before half-time.
Valletta took time to work their way into the match but had the best of the early chances. The Lilywhites stormed out of the blocks in the second half as Mintoff did well to parry a close-range strike by Taylon.
Some lovely triangulation down the inside right by Ljubomirac and Ermis Moustakis worked an opening for Samir Arab who hit straight at Henry Bonello.
On 65 minutes, Loof powered a header just wide off the post from Steve Pisani’s well-flighted free-kick and a set-piece seemed Balzan’s best way of prising Valletta open.
Tempers boiled over in the closing minutes when Balzan striker Eric Mc Woods was dismissed by referee Glen Tonna just before the final whistle. Suleiman Jalu and Jonathan Caruana tangled too in closing minutes.
But this is a game that will be remembered more for Nwoko’s cool finish than hot heads.