Day 25: Valletta 4 Naxxar 0
Valletta’s superiority over Naxxar Lions is beyond question. A third win on the trot against Clive Mizzi’s side was a distinct possibility on the strength of the teams’ current form.
Still, the Citizens had battled more than expected to see off relegation-threatened St Andrew’s and Qormi in their last two outings and that augmented the possibility of another tight match.
Naxxar, inspired by the goalkeeping heroics of Alberto Gallinetta, frustrated Valletta for much of the first half but once Rafael Ledesma doubled their lead from the penalty spot the Citizens cantered home to their eighth successive win and open a five-point lead over Hibs, who face Sliema Wanderers this evening.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit picked a very attack-minded formation with Ledesma assigned a roving role behind a threepronged attack led by the returning Federico Falcone, Abdelkarim Nafti and Jhonnattan.
This game plan allowed Valletta to make good use of Falcone’s shielding prowess against the tight marking of Andrew Scicluna and Ishmael Grech and maximise Jhonnattan’s runs towards goal as he had a clear channel on the right flank in which to surge.
Past the quarter of hour mark, Gallinetta denied Ledesma with a brilliant save when he found himself face to face with the midfielder.
After 18 minutes, Llywelyn Cremona sliced open the Lions defence, picking up the ball some 30 metres out on the left flank, before laying the ball for Ledesma in the centre. The Brazilian quickly transferred the ball to Nafti who fired a thumping shot which Gallinetta parried away.
Confidence and attacking flair characterised Valletta’s play in the opening period as Ledesma swung in a ball for Jhonnattan who headed towards goal but the determined Gallinetta blocked his effort.
It was clear that it was only a matter of time before Valletta took the lead.
That duly arrived on 39 minutes when from a short corner Nafti served Umeh Calistus who fired a thumping shot that flew into the bottom corner of the net.
Two minutes later, Jhonnattann stormed down the right flank and forced Gallinetta into a fine save with a powerful drive from an angle.
Valletta took just four minutes into the second half to double their advantage.
David Fenech brought down Falcone inside the box and Ledesma rammed his penalty shot past Gallinetta.
Two goals behind and lacking creativity and flair Mizzi made a first substitution, bringing on Angus Buhagiar for Daren Falzon who was instructed to play in the hole behind Vallecillo.
His tactical shuffling failed to create trouble to Valletta who maintained a stranglehold on the proceedings and added a third three minutes past the hour mark.
Jhonnattan split the Naxxar defence with a delicately weighted pass down the right channel and Cremona showed excellent awareness to roll the ball square for Falcone to tap the ball home.
Jhonnattan’s surge into the box, 11 minutes from time was halted by the sliding Hamutenya, prompting Mario Apap to order a second penalty for Valletta.
Juan Cruz Gill was given a rare opportunity to get his name on the scoresheet but it was not to be as the central defender’s effort crashed against the foot of the post.
Naxxar let out a sigh of relief as they tried hard to avoid a humiliation but their reprieve was temporary.
Three minutes from time, substitute Michael Mifsud dispatched a low shot past Gallinetta to wrap up a comfortable victory for Valletta.
Source – timesofmalta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, R. Ledesma (D. Camilleri), U. Calistus, J. Caruana, F. Falcone, J. Benites, L. Cremona, R. Camilleri (J. Borg), J. Gill Cruz, C. Pani, A. Nafti (M. Mifsud).
NAXXAR L. – A. Gallinetta, A. Hungria Rosero, A. Scicluna, E. Vallecillo, D. Falzon (A. Buhagiar) (D. Pace), D. Bonnici, I. Grech, D. Fenech (J. Ellul), E. Hamuntenya, N. Tasic.
Scorers: 39′ U. Calistus, 49′ R. Ledesma (P), 64′ F. Falcone, 88′ M. Mifsud.
Yellow Cards: A. Hungaria, E. Vulincello.
Man of Match: J. Benites (V)