ĦAMRUN SPARTANS 0
BIRKIRKARA G. Nava-6, O.Iorio-5.5 (72 R. Scicluna), E. Pepe-5. A. de Paixao-6 (63 F. Falcone), Y. Yankam-5, K. Zammit-5, C. Attard-7, E. Cabrera-4 S. Zibo-7, A. Coppola-5.5, K. Tulimieri-5.5 (68 P. Mbong).
ĦAMRUN SPARTANS H. Bonello-6, S. Borg-6, M. Guillaumier-7, E. Mashike-6 (81 Ederson), J. Ailton-5 (76 L. Montebello), R. Prsa-6.5 (80 de Freitas), O. Bjelicic-6, J. Corbalan-6, Jonny-5.5, E. Marcelina-6, R. Camenzuli-7.
Referee: Matthew De Gabriele.
Yellow cards: Yankam, de Paixao, Marcelina, Corbalan, Prso, Camenzuli, Iorio,
BOV player of the match: Simon Zibo (Birkirkara)
Ħamrun Spartans remained in the driving seat in this season’s Premier League when they kept Birkirkara at arms’ length following a goalless draw at the National Stadium.
Yet, it must have felt like a psychological victory for Birkirkara as this direct clash gave them the opportunity to underline their title credentials.
It’s true that for much of the opening period, they were outclassed by a vibrant Spartans side who attacked them from all angles.
But their game plan worked as Birkirkara frustrated their opponents with a solid defensive display to keep things as they were at the top.
Set out in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the Stripes had Ghanaian midfielder Simon Zibo making his debut as he was tasked to offer cover to the defence, with a performance that earned him the player of the match accolade.
Branko Nisevic opted for an offensive 3-4-3 with Elvis Mashike operating behind the front duo of Jonny and Dodo.
For long periods Ħamrun played at a high tempo that suited them best.
Ħamrun never allowed Birkirkara to get into their trademark passing rhythm, playing with more drive and energy than the Stripes, who were overrun in midfield at times and struggled to cope with the pace and variety of Jonny, Camenzuli, and Elvis in attack.
Birkirkara looked vulnerable and in the 10th minute it was only thanks to Cain Attard’s desperate defending that they managed to go in for half-time on equal terms.
They managed to get their act together in the second half as Hamrun struggled to rediscover their first-half fluency.
Inside the first ten minutes, Corbalan broke on the right flank but his progression was halted by Yannick Yankam, referee Matthew Degabriele applied the advantage rule, which caught Enrico Pepe by surprise. In the process, Jonny wrong-footed the Malta defender before squaring the ball for Elvis. Yet, Attard came to his side’s rescue as he cleared the Ivorian’s effort off the line.
Six minutes later, Camenzuli struck the post while on 39 minutes, Matthew Guillaumier shot just wide from in front of goal after a brilliant run, showing incredible ball control to go past Pepe and Kurt Zammit.
Birkirkara managed to steady the ship after the interval, and they threatened to break the deadlock on 48 minutes.
Attard picked up the ball just outside his box and fed the overlapping De Paixao who pulled it back for Daniel Cabrera. The Argentine striker’s touch was too heavy and was anticipated by the onrushing Henry Bonello.
Soon after, Ħamrun saw a penalty shout turned down when Zammit looked to have connected to Eder’s leg inside the area but the referee waved play on.
Tiredness set in as the Spartans were unable to reproduce their first-half performance as the Stripes had the opportunity to snatch the win at the death.
Substitute Paul Mbong delivered a teasing corner that flew across the face of goal but Attard was unable to head home.
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