ĦAMRUN SPARTANS 1
Muniz 44; J. Grech 112
H. Bonello; D. Gojkovic, J. Mbong, Dodo (119 C. Mercieca), A. Oyama, S. Borg, F. Sasere, J. Corbalan (117 S. Attard), P. Djordjevic (82 L. Gambin), I. Ntow (64 F. El Bakhtaoui), E. Marcelina.
M. Calleja Cremona; L. Almeida, J. Degabriele (81 H. Vieira), D. Vella (105 A. Attard), Z. Grech, E. Beu (72 Thaylor), J. Zerafa, A. Agius, A. Muniz (86 J. Grech), A. Diakite (105 G. Artiles), W. Domoraud.
Referee Fyodor Zammit.
Yellow cards Bonello, Beu, Vella, Grech, Gambin.
Jake Grech completed Hibernians’ comeback deep in extra-time to send the Paolites into the semi-finals of the Izibet FA Trophy after a 2-1 victory over Ħamrun Spartans.
Hibernians came from behind after Dodo had put the Spartans ahead. Alvaro Muniz levelled terms with a brilliant strike before the half-time whistle. Then, former Ħamrun Spartans midfielder Grech scored the all-important goal to send the current league leaders into the semis where they will meet the winner of the semi-final between Floriana and Birkirkara.
While Hibernians remain on course for a potential domestic double, the elimination dents Ħamrun’s chances of qualifying to Europe next season.
The only chance for the Spartans to make it to a UEFA club competition is to finish in the top three in the championship.
Branko Nisevic’s side currently sits fourth with 38 points, two behind third-placed Birkirkara with three games left.
Jurgen Degabriele tried to put Hibernians ahead inside the first five minutes just to see his close-range effort sail over the bar.
Moments later, Erjon Beu tried his luck from inside the area but goalkeeper Henry Bonello managed to block into corner.
However, it was Ħamrun Spartans who drew first blood through Dodo.
Joseph Mbong chipped in a cross which Dodo guided into the net past Matthew Calleja Cremona from close-range.
Hibernians staged a reaction through a Degabriele shot from outside the area that tested goalkeeper Bonello but was not strong enough to beat him.
At the other end, Franklin Sasere lifted an effort over the bar with a towering header, in attempt to double Ħamrun’s lead.
Nonetheless, it was Hibernians who got the game’s next goal thanks to Alvaro Muniz who fired a first timer past Bonello just before half-time.
After the interval, chances were at a premium as just one slip could cost an elimination for either side in this knockout game.
Ħamrun Spartans bolstered their attack with the introduction of creative midfielder Faisal El Bakthaoui whereas Hibernians replied with energetic wingback Thaylor who came on for Erjon Beu.
Arthur Oyama tried to snatch a late qualification for the Spartans with a long-range freekick but could not beat Calleja Cremona as extra-time was needed after the stalemate in regular time.
The first noteworthy action of the extra 30 minutes dropped on the feet of Mbong who let fly a strike from a long distance just to be denied by the crossbar. It came before Sasere tried to capitalise on a corner kick towards goal but was stopped by the Hibernians’ goalkeeper.
Legs became heavy on both sides as penalties were looming but Hibernians managed to secure a late qualification when Grech met Thaylor’s low cross and capitalised from point-blank range.