Day 23: Valletta 2 St Andrews 1
St. Andrews were undone by late goal by returning Abdelkarim Nafti who ensured that Valletta stayed at the top after the first round of the second phase.
Federico Falcone and Jhonnattann were the front-runners in an attacking line supported by the incursions of the free-running Rafael Ledesma, operating slightly behind strikers and the grafting of Abdelkarim Nafti.
The early pace did not go beyond a trot as the Premier League leader started applying the pressure. After two efforts from Falcone and Nafti had gone high, Valletta drew dividends after 19 minutes. Ledesma hit a rasping cross-cum-shot which was pushed by St Andrews goalkeeper Jake Galea into the direction of Falcone. The Argentine striker laid the ball to Naftibefore the nimble midfielder prodded the ball into the net.
Still despite Valletta’s lead, the contest could not quite spark off any excitement. The far was largely haphazard and as a consequence goalmouth action was as rare as rain in these days.
Suddenly, however, St Andrews equalised. A long ball from right flank started the move which gave the Saints their equaliser, as Borg, backtracking quickly to cover the ball failed to take notice of Enmy Pena Beltre who flashed past him on the left before unleashing a swerving shot which gave Henry Bonello no chance.
It was not before the 73rd minute that the Citizens fashioned a decent chance, Jhonnattann finally turned past his marker, before floating a cross which Falcone headed goalwards but Michael Johnson stuck out his arm to keep the ball out.
Referee Alan Mario Sant duly pointed to the spot and dismissed the defender but the Argentine striker saw his drive from the spot crashing against the bar as the ball bounced back at his feet, at which point the striker tried to push the ball home but the referee signalled an infringement.
Valletta were now showing signs of revival as they worked up a head of steam. Galea, the Saints goalkeeper did well to tip over the bar Ryan Camilleri’s rising shot as they were translating their numerical superiority into clear-cut openings.
In the 75th minute, there was another scare for St. Andrews when Calistus swung in a dangerous cross from the right and Jhonnattann rose above his marker but his header hit the crossbar. Five minutes later, Nafti advanced unchallenged before elected to pass to Jhonattann whose feeble touch finish just wide.
The white-shirted players went up again and scored, Nafti hammering a shot home after receiving from Camilleri who had broken clear on the right.
Valletta’s relief was evident as all substitutes ran onto the pitch to embrace Nafti at the end of the match whole the heads of the brave St Andrews players dropped.
Source – times of malta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, R. Briffa, R. Ledesma (U. Calistus), J. Caruana (M. Mifsud), J. Borg, F. Falcone, J. Benites (L. Cremona), R. Camilleri, J. Gill Cruz, C. Pani, A. Nafti.
St ANDREW’S – J. Galea, E. Pena Beltre, D. Camilleri, B. Che, J. Cuesta (J. Walker), L. Oseghale, M. Wisdom, J. Farrugia, C. Onwundinjo, K. Nwoko (S. Oproiesco), M. Johnson.
Scorers: 19′ 81′ A. Nafti (V), 33′ E. Pena Beltre (S)
Yellow Cards: M. Wisdom (S), R. Briffa, F. Falcone, R. Camilleri (V)
Red Card: M. Johnson (S)
Man of Match: Abdelkarim Nafti (V)
Referee: Alan Mario Sant