Birkirkara flattered by late leveller
St Andrews were unable to hold to their first half lead against a rudderless Birkirkara side and the match ended in frustration for them on a wet afternoon at Ta’Qali yesterday.
Birkirkara were heading towards an embarrassing defeat but managed to draw level deep into five minutes of added time, through substitute Desira Buttigieg, to salvage an undeserved point.
The lack of commitment was arguably more worrying than their shortage of ideas. There was not a great deal of creativity from Birkirkara in and around the opposition penalty area.
It was perplexing to see a team look so meek against a side four places and seven points behind them.
The Stripes have now gone three league matches without a win.
St Andrews tried to control the tempo in a first half where they played predominantly on the counterattack.
It was perhaps to be expected search of a lead. Jhonnattann’s effort narrowly missed the target after being teed up by Mifsud. Then Alinho had a shot from outside the area skimming the bar.
On the other end Sliema threatened when Muccardi swept the ball wide off a corner from the left.
Valletta did break the deadlock towards the hour though. On Aguirre’s cross from the that they lacked enough cohesion, although they did try to go out of their defensive shell, Birkirkara permitting.
But the Saints, under new coach Danilo Donic, have made remarkable improvement since their 4-0 defeat by Birkirkara on the first day of the season under former coach Jose Borg. Two wins and a draw from their last four league matches suggest that St Andrews cannot be taken lightly these days. left, Federico Falcone rose to head past the helpless keeper Zammit.
Sliema looked shellshocked. Valletta were once again finding gaps to exploit in the Wanderers’ rearguard and doubled their lead on 70 minutes. Llywelyn Cremona advanced on the right, created space for himself and beat keeper Zammit.
Valletta were almost sleepwalking
Birkirkara were made aware of this after 35 minutes of complete dominance, but lack of penetration.
They surprisingly fell behind when St Andrews’ wide back Enmy Beltre found space inside the Birkirkara defence and seeing keeper Kopric out of his line, he netted with a delicate chip.
That triggered a reaction from Birkirkara, who until then appeared more comfortable on the towards a comfortable win when Sliema pulled one back through their capatin Mark Scerri as he finished off from close range on 83 minutes.
The final seven minutes turned out to be quite hectic with Valletta desperately trying to hold to their lead and Sliema struggling to up the tempo but the scoreline did not change till the end. ball in midfield, with Mislav Andelkovic back in the side after injury.
But until halftime they only severely tested the Saints’ keeper Jake Galea once, when he turned a fierce drive by Bajada into a corner.
The pattern of the match did not change much in the second period. Birkirkara kept struggling to go past the Saints’ compact defence and were almost caught cold on 50 minutes when Beltre hit first time on an Udoh cross from the left but keeper Kopric could save.
The introduction of Ryan Scicluna for Bajada was meant to give the Stripes some needed impetus in attack, where Temile and Plut looked only peripheral figures yesterday.
But there was never any prospect of a Birkirkara comeback as Birkirkara were still too slow and too laboured in their passing for it to make a difference.
St Andrews threatened again eight minutes from normal time as an Nwoko shot from a distance was turned into a corner by Kopric.
Birkirkara were staring defeat in the face when, deep into added time, three players found themselves in front of the St Andrews goal. The flag did not go up and substitute Mateo Desira Buttigieg managed to hit the ball low past keeper Galea to draw level.
It was a deflating moment for plucky St Andrews.
Valletta’s Jonathan Caruana (in white) reaches first ahead of Jean Paul Farrugia of Sliema Wanderers
Ryan Darmanin of St. Andrews (left) is challenged by Gareth Sciberras of Birkirkara (right) Photo: Domenic Aquilina