Ten-man Hibernians show mental strength to move top of the lot
Although having Jackson Lima sent off soon after the hour, Hibernians showed they can cope with the heat of the battle. After surrendering a one-goal lead in the first half, they scored twice when playing with ten men to beat stubborn Sliema Wanderers and move at the top of the standings for at least 24 hours.
Yesterday’s showing was the perfect risposte to anyone thinking they may not be strong enough mentally as they stretched their unbeaten run to eight matches.
Hibernians had Jorginho back in the side but missed Clayton Failla who was not included in their squad and was replaced by Timmy Tabone Desira.
Following their defeat against Valletta, Sliema included Milos Galin in attack from the start as Tarlaziz was exiled to the bench.
Hibernians controlled the opening minutes and were one up by the quarter hour. Cohen played a short free kick intelligently low to free Jurgen Degabriele and beat keeper Zammit with an unerring shot.
If the Wanderers needed a wake up call, and a generally flat first quarter hour display suggested that they did, Denni provided it.
Three minutes later he tested Valletta keeper Hogg with a dipping free kick turned into a corner.
To their credit, Sliema did not lose their composure and Denni was always the player to pull them back into the game.
Past the half hour, Sliema were awarded a penalty when Muchardi was felled by Soares inside the Hibernians area and Denni Dos Santos scored from the spot to level matters.
The match became increasingly tense in the second period as both teams wanted to win.
Sliema keeper Zammit stretched himself to hold out a Kristensen free kick. On the other end Xuereb’s shot was repelled by Valletta keeper Hogg.
Towards the hour, Hibernians even hit the upright through a Bezzina erffort as Sliema were playing with ten men while the injured Scerri was receiving treatment on the touchline.
At that juncture Hibernians were again holding the initiative but stubbon Sliema failed to buckle. The Wanderers forced a couple of corners and threatened with a Galin firm header.
The match took a twist in Sliema’s favour on 67 minutes. Hibernains had their influential midfielder Jackson Lima sent off for a second booking and immediately Joseph Mbong replaced Cohen.
The match became a little fractious in the final quarter. There was a clash of heads bewteen Dias and Farrugia and play was interrupted for some minutes.
Sliema’s mood was punctured on 76 minutes though when Hibernians regained the lead. Kristensen played a through pass to Jorginho who reached for the ball with his outstretched foot sliding it past the helpless keeper Zammit.
Once again Sliema faced a test of nerve and responded straight away with another wave of attacking. Farrugia tested keeper Hogg with a low drive.
The atmosphere was euphoric for Hibernians when they scored their third goal, with two minutes remaining, through their industrious midfielder Johan Bezzina, knocking the ball in from close range.
The game had entirely changed complexion and Sliema knew that their time was up.
Hibernians Balzan Valletta Birkirkara Floriana Sliema Hamrun St. Andrews Tarxien Gzira Mosta Pembroke P 13 12 12 13 13 13 13 13 13 13 12 12 W 9 8 7 7 7 5 5 4 3 2 2 2 D 2 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 4 3 2 1 L F A Pts 2 21 11 29 1 23 13 27 2 20 11 24 3 30 11 24 3 18 11 24 6 16 17 17 6 21 24 17 7 13 21 14 6 13 20 13 8 11 23 9 8 10 22 8 8 14 26 7
Bjorn Kristensen of Hibernians (left) is challenged by John Mintoff of Sliema Wanderers (right) Photo: Domenic Aquilina