10-man Valletta back to winning form, move into second place
Valletta were back to winning form yesterday as they beat Gzira United by the odd goal in three to move second in the standings ahead of today’s top clash between Balzan and Birkirkara.
Goals from Benites and Falcone (from a penalty) gave them a healthy cushion, but Gzira fought back gamely in the second half during which they managed to get back into the game soon after missing a penalty, scoring a goal through Machedo Neto.
Yesterday’s performance in the first half must rank among the best of Paul Zammit’s side this season but in the second, City left much to be desired as they allowed Gzira back in the match, risking an equaliser before they eventually sealed the issue with a third goal in added time.
Valletta now have 14 points from eight matches, five behind leaders Balzan. Gzira are now in eighth place after Sliema defeated Hamrun in an earlier match.
Valletta dominated the first half an almost one-way traffic affair. It was evident that the citizens were all out for a win having missed out on that in their last four encounters.
And after taking the lead early, they never looked back and penned Gzira in their own half for long stretches.
Only in the final moments of the half one saw Gzira having a pot at goal, but that was certainly not enough to trouble Valletta.
In the second half, the Maroons launched several attacks as they took over the midfield sector, but Valletta were also somewhat dangerous in their fewer counter attacks through Falcone and Benites.
Gzira came back into the game after Bonello was sent off in the 82nd minute. Though missing a penalty, they scored a goal soon after, but they failed to get an equaliser despite finishing the match in numerical superiority. In fact, Valletta went on to score a third goal to ascertain themselves of the three points.
Valletta took the initiative right from the start but Falcone’s low effort in the second minute was well saved by
to clear and the ball went to Jhonnattann Benites who beat goalie Azzopardi with a neat shot to the left.
Two minutes later, it was Claudio Pani who tested Azzopardi seriously, but the goalie managed to palm the ball away. goalie Azzopardi.
It was no surprise that they took the lead on the seventh minute. From a good Falcone pass, the Gzira defence failed
In the 22nd minute, from a Malano cross, Falcone headed the ball down in the path of Benites, but the latter hit high from an ideal position.
Valletta insisted on attack and in the 24th minute, they were awarded a penalty when Falcone was floored by Diamoutene in the area. From the spotkick, Falcone made no mistake sending the goalie the wrong way.
In the 38th minute, it was Azzopardi who denied Valletta a third goal when following a fine run down the left flank by Benites, his cross was first timed by Falcone but Azzopardi somehow managed to save.
In the 42nd minute, Gzira finally tested Bonello through Conti, but the City goalie punched the ball away.
Immediately afterwards, at the other end, Falcone scored with a header off a Calistus cross but the Irish official had whistled for an infringement.
Just before the interval whistle, Benites even went round goalie Azzopardi in the area, but his effort from the angle hit the side rigging.
At the start of the second half, Gzira protested for a penalty when Juan Carlos Corbolan fell in the area, but the official, close to the action, ignored their protests.
In the 57th minute, Yanis Tonna tested Bonello with a good shot from 20 metres.
The Maroons went closest to scoring on 61 minutes. From a Tonna cornerkick, it was Avila Perez who saw his first timer hitting the crossbar and ending over.
On the 77th minute, Bonello was a protagonist twice. First he turned to corner in style a Ledesma freekick and seconds later, he received a direct red card, when following a corner, the Irish official noticed something untoward near the City goalline where Zachary Scerri finished on the ground. The end result was a red card for Bonello. Maverick Buhagiar took Bonello’s place in goal and quickly became a great protagonist as he saved Avila Perez’s penalty kick. But from the corner, it was Macheda Neto who headed into the net following a cross from the right.
However, it was not over as Valletta, despite playing with a man less, still managed to score a third goal through substitute Jean Borg to seal their victory.
Gzira’s Jonathan Bondin and Valletta’s Steve Borg