LIJA ATHLETIC 1
Alba 13, 63
LIJA ATHLETIC: L. Bonniċi-6, L. Muscat-5, I. Borg-5, D. Scerri-6 (70 Alhinho-), E. Beu-6, F. Brandan-6.5, H. Wood-6.5 (77 N. Micallef), M. Jimenez-6, J. Gill Cruz-6, C. Giordimaina-5, N. Mclaren-6.5 (72 R. Darmanin).
VALLETTA: Y. Cini-6.5, T. Caruana-6, S. Malano-6, M. Piciollo-4 (78 R. Fenech), S. Dimech-5 (80 K. Nwoko), J. Zerafa-5, E. Sala-6, R. Muscat-6, L. Aguirre-5, M. Alba-7, M. Fontanella-5 (22 R. Tonna-5).
Referee: Slobodan Petrovic.
Yellow cards: Scerri, Bonnici, Micallef, Muscat, Zerafa.
BOV Player of the match: Miguel Alba (Valletta.
A pat on the back greeted Miguel Angel Alba at the end of the match and it was no less than the skillful winger deserved as he turned on an exhilarating performance of skill to help his team register back-to-back wins for the first time since September.
Valletta were again down to the bare bones with Ryan Camilleri and Taisei Marukawa being late additions to their growing injury list. Interim coach Gilbert Agius was left with no option but to field a makeshift defence as Eslit Sala partnered Triston Caruana in central defence, Leandro Aguirre filled in at the right flank and Joseph Zerafa as usual, manned the left flank.
But their backline was immediately put to the sword by Lija’s fast forward line when Erjon Beu steered in after some neat work by Nicholas Mclaren to put his side ahead after just six minutes.
Their lead did not last long though as Alba fired in the equaliser with a diagonal shot after goalkeeper Yenz Cini’s long punt downfield fell kindly for him. Valletta maintained the edge but it was Daniel Scerri’s good cover work that denied the promising Shawn Dimech. Unbelievably, Matteo Piciollo miscued his effort in front of a gaping goal to let Lija off the hook.
Even worse for Valletta was the sight of Mario Fontanella limping off after 22 minutes to join the ever-growing injury list.
Alba’s class instigated a real sense of urgency for Valletta past the half hour mark. It was here that the Argentine came to the fore with his dead ball expertise. On 33 minutes, he curled a 20-metre free-kick towards the top corner but Luke Bonnici managed to push the ball onto the bar and out.
Four minutes from half-time, his well-floated corner from the right, reached the unmarked Santiago Malano whose well-placed header finished just off the far post.
Nicholas McLaren was proving quite a handful and Zerafa struggled to tame the agile movement and pace of the Jamaican winger.
On 51 minutes, he breezed past the defender but his effort was blocked by Aguirre. Scerri pounced on the rebound to let fly a ferocious drive that came off the side-netting.
Valletta were looking sheepish, trying to grapple with Lija’s fast counter-breaks. Beu directed a short free-kick to Harry Wood whose drive was blocked by Cini.
Fernando followed the ball’s flight to hit the loose ball into the net but his ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside. Lija kept up the momentum. After 58 minutes, the Argentine striker latched on to a McLaren pass and hit it first-time but Cini was up to the task.
Suddenly, however, Valletta took the lead. Rowen Muscat served Alba to outsmart Ismael Borg with his polished footwork before placing the ball past Bonnici.
After 77 minutes, Miguel Jimenez swung in an inviting ball and Brandan gave the illusion of a goal as his drive flashed across the side-netting. Lija’s last-ditch efforts to equalise were unsuccessful as Valletta are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.