Nwoko 9; Caruana 90
Devis Mangia picked up his first win as Malta coach as the national team edged past Gibraltar in an international friendly at the National Stadium.
A Kyrian Nwoko goal inside the first ten minutes of play and a late Triston Caruana strike were enough for the hosts to chalk up a morale-boosting win but not all was rosy for the Malta coach.
In fact, the Maltese team, who was made up of several players who rarely featured for Mangia in the opening two matches, dominated the match for much of the opening half as they dictated proceedings with Gibraltar rarely creating any danger to Jake Galea’s goal.
But after the break, the Maltese seemed to lose their rhythm and were forced to contend with long spells of pressure from Gibraltar who went in search of an equalizer. Still the home side remained compact and managed to add a second goal through Caruana late on to seal their win.
One major blemish for Mangia yesterday was the injury to striker Nwoko who pulled up a muscle early in the second half and it looks increasingly unlikely that he will not be part of the contingent heading to La Vella today.
But all in all, the result will surely be a good injection of confidence ahead of the more important commitments against Andorra, on Saturday, and Latvia, next week.
Mangia kept his promise of giving a chance to number of players who rarely featured in the national team. In fact, the Italian coach handed a debut to four players namely goalkeeper Jake Galea, defender Samir Arab and midfielders Shaun Dimech and Joseph Muscatt.
For Muscatt, who is plying his trade in Germany with Paderborn 07, this is his first appearance in the national team set-up.
The Maltese players took the ground running and after eight minutes they took lead.
Joseph Muscatt won a free-kick on the right channel and Ryan Camenzuli sent a pin-point cross towards Kyrian Nwoko who headed past Kyle Goldwin, the Gibraltar goalkeeper.
The goal settled the Maltese players who started to dictate proceedings with Andrei Agius adopting the role of directing the home side’s attacking forays, spraying passes on the wings through Muscatt and Dimech.
Malta came close again on 20 minutes when Muscatt won a free-kick on the edge of the area but Camenzuli’s inswinger was too central to create any danger to Goldwin.
The match remained low key with scoring chances few and far between.
Mangia suffered a blow eight minutes from the break when Nwoko picked up a muscle injury and was replaced by Luke Montebello.
On the restart, Mangia made another two changes when he roped in Triston Caruana and Steve Borg for Samir Arab and Andrei Agius as he looked to make more experiments with his team.
Seven minutes into the second half, Liam Walker, who had just replaced Kian Ronan, should have levelled matters when he turned past two Maltese defenders but was denied by the onrushing Jake Galea.
Walker turned provider on 58 minutes when he set up Tjay De Barr whose low shot was blocked by Caruana.
Malta were now on the backfoot as Gibraltar were pressing for an equalizer.
Twenty minutes into the second half Louie Annesley nodded the ball towards Graeme Torrilla who fired wide.
However, it was Malta who had the final say as in stoppage time Jake Grech found Caruana inside the area and the Valletta midfielder headed the ball past Goldwin to wrap up a positive day for Malta.