Birkirkara: S. Guarnone-7, E. Pepe-6.5, L. Montebello-6.5, P. Mbong-6 (67 C. Bonanni), R. Briffa-6.5 (87 G. Farrugia), K. Zammit-6, R. Alidor-6, F. Falcone-6, C. Attard-6, O. Carniello-6.5, A. Alves-5 (79 Caio).
Valletta: Y. Cini-5, T. Caruana-5, S. Malano-6, M. Piciollo-6.5, E. Pena Beltre-6 (75 K. Nwoko), E. Sala-6, R. Muscat-6, L. Aguirre-5.5, R. Fenech-6.5, M. Fontanella-6, L. Campos-5 (46 S. Dimech-6.5).
Referee: Alex Johnson.
Yellow cards Pepe, Briffa, Fenech.
BOV Player of the match: Luke Montebello (Birkirkara).
Birkirkara scored a goal in each half to see off Valletta in a hard-fought encounter at the National Stadium.
Goals from Luke Montebello and substitute Caio Prado did the trick for the Stripes who endured some anxious moments throughout the match and had to be grateful to goalkeeper Alessandro Guarnone who preserved their lead with some fine saves.
The win was a major boost for Birkirkara’s European hopes as the Stripes have now leapfrogged Sliema Wanderers into fourth place on 37 points, one ahead of Sliema Wanderers.
On the other hand, Valletta will feel hard-done to have left the National Stadium without points as the Citizens played arguably their best match under coach Jose Antonio Cardoso Mendes and will be ruing their failure of converting their clear-cut chances which in the end cost them the match.
Valletta started brightly and after ten minutes of play they were unlucky not to take the lead when Piciollo found himself in space inside the area and hit a curling drive that came off the upright.
A minute later, teh Citizens came close when Sandro Guarnone did well to keep out Ryan Fenech’s inswinger.
Birkirkara’s response arrived on 15 minutes when from a Paul Mbong corner, Oscar Carniello effort finished just wide.
The Stripes started to grow in confidence and on 28 minutes Alex Alves sent a low cross towards the unmarked Federico Falcone who, however, was anticipated by Emlit Sala who cleared the danger.
A minute later, Mbong’s corner was met by Enrico Pepe who headed just wide.
On 31 minutes Alves dispossessed Triston Caruana and surged inside the area but the Brazilian incredibly slipped before he could conclude.
The Stripes pressure yielded an opener on 38 minutes. Falcone’s shot from the edge of the area was deflected into the path of Luke Montebello who kept his cool to slot home.
After the break, Shaun Dimech replaced Campos and the Malta midfielder quickly was in action when on 47 minutes served Mario Fontanella who fired wide.
Just past the hour mark, Valletta were unlucky not to draw level when they hit the woodwork twice. Enmy Pena Beltre hit a fierce drive that came off the bar, the rebound fell to Piciollo who with Guarnone only to beat hit the bar once more.
The Birkirkara no.1 then produced a fine one-handed save to deny Fontanella following a Ryan Fenech corner-kick.
Birkirkara finally threatened on 75 minutes when Roderick Briffa’s curling drive just missed past the upright.
The Stripes sealed the win six minutes from time when substitute Caio Prado volleyed the ball home from a Luke Montebello cross.