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BOV Premier League

Champions Hibernians denied by Valletta in league opener

Valletta's Triston Caruana (right) tackles Yunusa Muritala. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

VALLETTA             1

Dimech 57

HIBERNIANS         1

Llerna 61

VALLETTA

A.Guarnone-6;  E. Ruiz-7, J. Borg-7, T. Caruana-6.5, S. Dimech-6.5 (68 E. Sala), O. Akpoveta-6.5 (76 A Zammit), C. Gauci-6.5 (93 J. Willy), E. Pena Beltre-7, B. Kamdem-6.5, B. Paiber-6.5, K. Bevis-6 (83 J. Ngong).

HIBERNIANS

I.Kone-7; F. Apap-7, G. Llerena-7, Thaylor-6 (83 G. Mensah), J. Grech-6, J. Degabriele-6.5, B. Kristensen-6 (58 A. Agius-6), G. Artiles-6, Y. Muritala-6 (88 J. Morillas), A. Diakite-7, R. Soares-7.

Referee Slobodan Petrovic.

Yellow cards Diakite, Akpoveta, Ruiz, Gauci, Muritala, Soares.

BOV Player of the Match Gonzalo Llerna (Hibernians).

Defending champions Hibernians started their title defence with a 1-1 draw against Valletta at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.

In a pulsating and feisty encounter, Valletta and Hibernians cancelled each other with two goals scored in the space of four minutes through Shaun Dimech and Gonzalo Llerna.

Hibernians’ coach Andrea Pisanu deployed his strongest formation with Bjorn Kristensen captaining the side.

For much of the first half, the Paolites operated with transitions while in the second 45 minutes they exchanged proceedings more with their opponents.

On the other hand, Thane Micallef handed a first Valletta start to newcomers Enzo Ruiz, Oke Akpoveta, Bradley Kamdem, Brandon Paiber and Kilian Bevis.

A lot of questions were raised about Valletta’s competitiveness in this season but if the season opener is anything to go by, coach Micallef can take a lot of positives from such a strong showing.

Chances were at a premium in the first half, largely due to the unplayable pitch which did not make it easy to both Valletta and Hibernians to play the ball fluently on the ground.

Valletta defender Christian Gauci tried his luck from close-range when he fired over the bar following a corner-kick situation early in the game.

Hibernians’ Gonzalo Llerna tested Valletta’s goalkeeper Alessandro Guarnone with a thumping volley inside the penalty area.

Ten minutes from half-time, Hibernians thought they had forged ahead but Degabriele’s clever lob over Guarnone was disallowed for offside.

The Malta international forward tried to redeem himself with an effort from the edge of the area only to see his effort finishing inches wide.

On the brink of half-time, Pena Beltre fired a first timer over the bar as the first half ended in a goalless stalemate.

At the restart, Thaylor whipped in a brilliant cross just for Bjorn Kristensen who completely miss the target from inside the penalty area.

However, it was Valletta who broke the deadlock when Shaun Dimech guided a Pena Beltre’s low cross into the far post to put the Lilywhites ahead.

Their joy was cut short when two minutes later, Llerna – who had just shifted from his central defender role to a defensive midfielder position – hit a first-time strike that stunned Guarnone.

As the half wore on, there no clear-cut chances before Gonzalo was at the receiving end of a brilliant passing combination but failed to convert from inside the penalty area.

Five minutes from time, Ibrahim Kone came to the rescue for Hibernians with a brilliant save on an Enzo Ruiz’s towering header.

Late in the game, Javier Morillas came on for Hibernians days after joining the Paolites in the summer transfer window.

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