ĦAMRUN SPARTANS 1
D. Fernandes-6, E. Ruiz-6.5, E. Pepe-6, L. Montebello-6 (79 O. Carniello), C. Bonanni-6.5, P. Mbong-6 (73 N. Cross), K. Zammit-6, F. Falcone-6 (62 K. Bevis), R. Scicluna-6.5, L. Aguirre-6, J. Macedo-6 (79 B. Ngissah).
H. Bonello-6, D. Gojkovic-6, J. Mbong-6.5, A. Soares-6 (69 I. Ntow), A. Oyama-6, S. Borg-6, F. Sasere-6 (77 L. Gambin), M. Fedele-7, J. Corbalan-6, E. Marcelina-6.5, F. El Bakhtaoui-6.5 (88 P. Djordjevic).
Referee: Matthew De Gabriele.
Yellow cards: El Bakhtaoui, Scicluna, Macedo, Fedele, Corbalan, Gambin, Marcelina, Ntow, Zammit.
BOV Player of the Match: Matteo Fedele (Ħamrun).
An early goal by Franklin Sasere handed Ħamrun Spartans a narrow win over Birkirkara to secure third place in the BOV Premier League and therefore a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League this summer.
The Spartans will be making a return to European football after an absence of 30 years after being denied participation in this season’s UEFA Champions League by the UEFA Appeals Body.
Ħamrun were the better side throughout the 90 minutes and with players like Matteo Fedele, Emerson Marcelina, Joseph Mbong and Faissal El Bakhtaoui in fine form, they deserved to take home the three points to guarantee third place.
Birkirkara, on the other hand, finish fifth following Gżira United’s win over champions Hibernians.
The Stripes had goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes back in goal while Diego Venancio and Kilian Bevis made way for Paul Mbong and Luke Montebello.
The Spartans, on the other hand, had two changes from their last outing as Franklin Sasere and Faissal El Bakhtaoui were preferred to Luke Gambin and Predrag Djordjevic.
Ħamrun made their intentions clear right from the start, going close on 11 minutes when Fedele tried to serve Sasere from the left but Kurt Zammit came to the rescue, clearing the ball into a corner.
Two minutes later, El Bakhtaoui sent Ailton Soares through inside the area but the latter was anticipated by Ryan Scicluna.
The Spartans forged ahead on 14 minutes. Fedele delivered a cross from the left and Sasere took advantage of some hesitation by Fernandes and Enrico Pepe to place the ball into the back of the net.
The Stripes’ reaction was quite timid with Luke Montebello heading wide off an inviting cross by Enzo Ruiz on 35 minutes.
Five minutes later, Fedele released Soares on the left and off the latter’s cross, Sasere headed just wide. Fedele then sent Joseph Mbong through inside the area but his attempt was blocked at point-blank by Fernandes.
One minute from the end of the first half, a Fedele effort was turned into a corner and from the resulting corner, El Bakhtaoui had a shot from outside the area blocked by Fernandes. From the rebound, Fedele had a close-range effort blocked again by the Birkirkara custodian.
In the second half, Ħamrun remained in control and although Birkirkara threatened with a Federico Falcone header, off a free-kick by Bonanni on 53 minutes, the Spartans went close once again ten minutes later with a powerful drive by Fedele which was neutralised by Fernandes.
Towards the end, Birkirkara pushed more, going close with a Claudio Bonanni freekick on 84 minutes but the Spartans held on to take home the three points and secure a return to European football.