Updated at 8.30pm with video of Hibs celebrations
GŻIRA UNITED 2
Kolega 22; Messias 56
Vieira 9 pen.
D. Zarkov-7; G. Bohrer-6, L. Tabone-6, N. Muscat-6, Z. Scerri-6, T. Kolega-7, Y. Messias-7, N. Portelli-6 (66 R. Correa),J. Attard-6, Maxuell-6, Jefferson-7 (76 C. Gauci).
M. Calleja Cremona-6; Raphael-6 (81 J. Degabriele), D. Vella-6, E. Beu-7, J. Zerafa-6, A. Agius-6, L. Caruana-7 (81 Z. Grech), C. Edafe-5 (70 G. Artiles), A. Muniz-6, H. Vieira (21 J. Grech), W. Domoraud-6.
Referee Emanuel Grech.
Yellow card Zerafa.
BOV Player of the Match Yuri Messias (Gżira United).
Gżira United gatecrashed Hibernians’ title party after coming from behind to defeat the Paolites 2-1 and keep alive their European aspirations.
It looked as though Gżira were set for a difficult afternoon when they found themselves behind when Hugo Vieira converted an early penalty.
However, the Maroons kept their composure and managed to turn the tide in their favour with goals from Toni Kolega and Yuri Messias earning them three crucial points.
Gżira United have moved up to fourth in the standings on 43 points following Birkirkara’s loss to Ħamrun Spartans.
Darren Abdilla’s side will now await the winner of the FA Trophy to determine whether they will be representing Malta in next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League.
Should Hibernians or Floriana win the domestic cup, Gżira will qualify via their fourth spot in the championship whereas should the winner be someone between Valletta or Sta Lucia, they will be the ones playing European football.
An electric atmosphere welcomed the Hibernians players before the match, with the club paying tribute to the late president Tony Bezzina – a father figure at the Paola club – with an emotional choreography while presenting their new mascot as well.
Hibernians coach Stefano Sanderra handed a start to 2005-born Lucas Caruana who held his ground in his holding midfielder role.
Vieira was also given the nod but had to be replaced early in the game after picking up a knock.
Gżira, on their part, fielded their strongest formation including league’s top scorer Maxuell.
In the sixth minute, Gżira had the first chance of the game through Nevin Portelli whose long-range effort was blocked by Matthew Calleja Cremona.
Moments later, Hibernians were awarded a penalty when Vieira was floored by goalkeeper Darijan Zarkov. The winter signing took charge of the penalty and drilled the ball home to the delight of the Hibernians fans.
But Gżira fought back and levelled terms through Toni Kolega who made his way into the penalty box before firing a curling effort which stunned Calleja Cremona.
Hibernians tried to regain the lead when Erjon Beu let fly an overhead kick which sailed over the bar before meeting a corner-kick which he guided past Zarkov’s goal.
On the brink of half-time, Jefferson was denied by the woodwork when he tried a stunning bicycle kick from close-range before Beu saw his long-range shot going over the bar.
Jake Grech forced Zarkov to a brilliant save when the Hibernians attacking midfielder put down two opponents before firing a strike towards goal that was diverted into a corner.
After the interval, Maxuell tried his luck with a towering header but failed to hit the target before Gżira forged ahead through Messias.
The Brazilian forward pounced on a loose ball at the back before producing a neat strike past Calleja Cremona for his sixth goal of the season.
Hibernians missed a glorious opportunity to peg back Gżira when Jake Grech missed the target from inside the penalty area.
At the final whistle, Gżira United celebrated a key victory that kept them still in the hunt for a European berth.
On the other hand, the Hibernians were also in party mood as minutes later, captain Andrei Agius was presented with the league trophy by MFA president Bjorn Vasallo to kickstart their title party which lasted until late last night.