Plucky Saints hold champions to goalless draw
Champions Valletta disappointed their fans yesterday as they were surprisingly held to a goalless draw by a plucky St Andrews side.
Although the citizens cannot be said to have played badly, their insistence failed to produce the desired result as the Saints fought gallantly all the way.
It was a case of two missed points for the citizens in their title challenge and an important one obtained by the Saints in their fight to stave off relegation.
Valletta now occupy third place on 18 points, one ahead of Hibernians, four behind league leaders Balzan and one behind second placed Birkirkara. Of course, Hibernians, Birkirkara and Balzan have a match in hand.
The Saints remained in eighth place, but now they have 10 points, one below Hamrun and one ahead of Gzira and Tarxien.
Valletta dominated for most of the time as they had control of midfield right from the very first whistle.
St Andrews’ plan was obvious – defend with caution and operate on the break. At the back they were well organised and on most occasions, they managed to keep the citizens at bay. Che, Pena Beltre and Kesinovic proved to be tough nuts to crack as most of City’s attacks fell apart in their domain.
In their few counter-attacks, the Saints never made an impact on City’s defence and Lithuanian goalie Dziugas Bartkus was never tested, so superior were the City defenders.
On the 4th minute, Mifsud set Falcone with an intelligent pass, but the latter’s angled effort went wide.
Two minutes later, a fine move between Alinho, Malano and Mifsud ended with the latter shooting well over the bar from an ideal position.
St Andrews replied through a Beltre cross from which an Ivan Paz first timer was well saved by Bartkus.
In the 14th minute, as Valletta insisted, from a Mifsud cross, it was Benites who set the completely unmarked Malano in the centre of the area, but the City midfielder completely miskicked the ball and a good chance went begging.
In the 23rd minute, Saints goalie Jake Galea excellently saved a Benites first timer. And moments later, it was Pani who went close with a 20-metre scorcher which just missed the target.
Early in the second half, the Saints threatened through Pena Beltre who advanced into the City area, but goalie Bartkus rushed out of his charge to save.
In the 52nd minute, from a Pani freekick, Falcone’s neat header just missed the target.
The match degenerated and Valletta could not find a way past a packed St Andrews defence.
In added time, Aguirre had a freekick blocked by the Saints defence and his shot from the rebound went well over the bar.
Santiago Malano of Valletta (left) about to be challenged by Dale Camilleri of St. Andrews (right) Photo: Domenic Aquilina