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Paiber penalty saves Valletta as Citizens held by Pietà

Valletta and Pieta Hotspurs had to settle for a point after finishing 1-1 at the final whistle. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

VALLETTA 1

Paiber 45 pen.

PIETÀ HOTSPURS 1

K. Leonardi 22

VALLETTA A. Guarnone-6, E. Ruiz-5, J. Borg-6, A. Zammit-5.5, S. Dimech-4, Niltinho-7 (82 I. Micallef), B. Paiber-7, J. Ngong-6, E. Sala-5, J. Willy-5 (70 R. Muscat), K. Bevis-4.

PIETÀ HOTSPURS R. Cini-7, S. Okoh-7, C. Bangura-6.5, O. Abraham-8, D. Zerafa-6.5, T. Agius-6, A. Schembri Wismayer-6 (62 J. Ghio-6), Z. Leonardi-6.5, A. Ogungbe-7, K. Leonardi-7 (70 Y. Morita), T. Yamaguchi-6 (72 K. Briffa)

Referee Andrea Sciriha

Yellow cards K.Leonardi, Z. Leonardi, Cini, Bangura,

Missed penalty Shaun Dimech (Valletta) 42

BOV player of the match Kian Leonardi (Pietà Hotspurs)

Valletta, fresh from the thrashing of Hibernians, were hoping to somewhat keep that momentum. Their opponents Pietà, at least on paper, were not expected to spoil their chances of keep climbing the Premier League standings.

But, after all was said and done, their mission was far from accomplished yesterday as both sides went back home with a point after a 1-1 draw.

Not only, but they saved their lines when they converted a penalty through Brandon Paiber after Shaun Dimech had missed a first penalty.

The game was preceded by a minute’s silence called by the Malta FA in memory of Brazil legend Pelè following his death aged 82.

Valletta paraded Niltinho, their new Brazilian striker, who has been signed to enhance their cutting edge, especially after the club decided to part company with Oke Akpoveta. The Brazilian was quickly into the thick of things as he drove forward, supplying a cross towards Andrea Zammit who headed straight into the hands of Reeves Cini, the son of Valletta legendary goalkeeper Reggie Cini.

The pressure increased on the Hotspurs’ fort, Cini bringing off a top-drawer save to tip Kilian Bevis’s point-blank header for a corner.

Although Pietà were forced to absorb Valletta’s pressure, they battled gamely and sought to move forward at every opportunity.

They exposed Valletta’s vulnerability at the back after 22 minutes when Takuma Yamaguchi and Kian Leonardi combined to regain possession in midfield. With no Valletta player in sight, Leonardi carried the ball forward to hit a low drive past Alessandro Guarnone.

Their menace on the counter was not to be ignored as Valletta threw caution to the wind in a bid to restore parity before half-time.

And three minutes from half-time, Valletta were awarded a penalty when Daniel Zerafa fouled Niltinho in the box. Shaun Dimech assumed responsibility for the penalty but this tame shot was touched away by Cini.

Unperturbed by Dimech’s penalty miss, Valletta kept pressing for an equaliser.  Two minutes later, the Citizens were awarded a second penalty when Jean Marie Ngong’s surge was halted by the sliding Cini, prompting referee Andrea Sciriha to order another penalty. This time, Brandon Paiber despatched his shot past Cini to level matters.

The second half was 10 minutes old when Temitope Abraham mustered a shot that glanced off the outstretched arm of Guarnone.

On the other side, Niltinho was almost through but his fine fling was blocked by Abraham. The midfielder failed to clear the danger completely, the ball came into the path of Paiber whose drive finished just wide.

Luck favours the brave goes the old adage. On 78 minutes, Ngong delivered a cross into the penalty area and Atanda Ogungbe inadvertently deflected the ball past Cini as he tried to clear but it hit the post.

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