Johnson 41, Loof 85pen
ĦAMRUN SPARTANS 2
Djordjevic 15, 66
BALZAN: S. Mintoff (21 V. Vranes-6.5), A. Loof-6.5, S. Arab-6, P. Fenech-7, E. McWoods-6.5, S. Pisani-6.5, S. Bezzina-5 (83 W. Donkin), M. Johnson-6.5, U. Ljubomirac-5, S. Jalu-5, Weverton-5 (71 A. Effiong).
ĦAMRUN: J. Debono-6.5, M. Guillaumier-6.5, J. Mbong-6.5, F. Sasere-5 (62 I. Iriberri-6.5), V. Serrano-6, J. Corbalan-6, P. Djordjevic-7.5 (80 I. Adeshina), K. Micallef-6, M. Barbosa-5 (66 J. Ailton-6), E. Marcelina-6, D. Borg-6.
Referee: Philip Farrugia
Yellow card: Marcelina, Debono, Serrano
BOV player of the match: Predrag Djordjevic (Ħamrun Spartans)
Balzan rescued a late point against Ħamrun Spartans from the penalty spot after a controversial handball decision.
The penalty incident came four minutes from time when Samir Arab hit the ball directly against the arms of Ige Adeshina from inches away.
Apart from controversial ending, the two teams delivered the expected goods.
Ħamrun true to their form, drew on their flair and solid tactical sense while Balzan dug deep into the reserves of dynamism and collective strength.
Unsurprisingly, the match developed into an entertaining affair with methodical football alternating with swinging play which often ended with hot action in the penalty.
It was a game which could so easily have headed in any direction and the end result is a fair outcome.
Mark Buttigieg elected to make three changes after his team’s reverse to Birkirkara. Darren Borg and Predrag Dordevic were drafted into the starting formation at the expense of Ige Adeshina and Imanol Iriberri. The most notable absence was goalkeeper Pablo Guillermo Sanchez, who was replaced by Jonathan Debono.
The return of Djordjevic in the Spartans’ 4-1-4-1 formation helped as the Serbian midfielder lit up the match with junking runs, clever passes and intelligent movement.
Ħamrun assumed complete control in the opening exchanges with Djordjevic pulling the strings and Joseph Mbong and Juan Corbalan attacking from deep at every opportunity.
And it was not long before the Spartans grabbed a deserved lead, Djordjevic dashing into the box to connect to Mbong’s pass and slotting the ball into the far low corner.
The goal forced Balzan to increase the tempo but they only looked like scoring from sporadic moves. Balzan were also hit by the loss of goalkeeper Sean Mintoff, who was replaced by Vukasin Vranes. Despite the setbacks, they continued to threaten.
On 26 minutes, the energetic Eric McWoods tried to serve Suleiman Jalu in the box but got so much power on his cross that the Dutch striker failed to connect to the ball.
Balzan were rewarded for their efforts four minutes from half-time.
Steven Pisani’s corner soared into the box where Michael Johnson rose unmarked to direct a header past the startled Debono.
Johnson stood out for Balzan as at the other end, he rescued his team by clearing Marcelo Barbosa’s effort off the line. From the rebound, Djordjevic shot incredibly wide in front of goal.
Balzan flew out of the blocks after the breaks when McWoods’s cross-shot across the face of goal was missed by both Jalu and Weverton.
On 48 minutes, Debono kept out Paul Fenech’s fierce shot from 20 metres. The Spartans goalkeeper got a firm palm to the ball but could only push the effort on the crossbar.
But with the introduction of Imanol Iriberri, it was Ħamrun who started to look the more likely to snatch a winner. Buttiġieġ also threw on Jorge Ailton in the place of Barbosa. B
ut it was from a cross by Matthew Guillaumier that Ħamrun responded as Djordjevic easily lost his marker to glance a header past Vranes.
Having established some degree of dominance, Ħamrun bombared the Balzan goal. On 71 minutes, Iriberri’s effort brought full-stretch save from Vranes while Ailton’s cushioned ball reached Mbong unmarked at the far post but the Malta winger dragged his shot wide from close range.
Balzan, largely through the industry of Fenech, kept teasing the Ħamrun rearguard. McWoods sensed a half chance and his shot on the turn brought a fine save from Debono after 81 minutes.
Four minutes from time, substitute Adeshina was punished for handball and, Augustine Loof stepped up to score.