Hibs end second round on top after Balzan slip-up
Another weekend of pulsating action in the BOV Premier League produced some twists and turns in the title race as Balzan surrendered top spot after a 2-1 upset to Sllema Wanderers while Hibernians edged rivals Tarxien Rainbows to end the second round a point clear at the summit.
Champions Valletta are also back in the title mix after a 2-0 defeat of Ħamrun Spartans on Sunday.
Balzan came unstuck as Jean Paul Farrugia and Ryan Spiteri were on target to hand Sliema Wanderers a much-needed boost.
Bojan Kaljevic had temporarily levelled matters for Balzan with a glancing header.
A fine free-kick from Brazilian playmaker Gilmar decided a tight derby as Hibs kept their title challenge on track with a 1-0 victory over Tarxien Rainbows.
Substitute Gilmar, making only his second appearance since rejoining Hibernians following a loan spell with a Saudi Arabian club, hit the winner on 70 minutes to end Tarxien's eight-match unbeaten run.
Argentine playmaker Santiago Malano was the star of the show in Valletta's 2-0 victory over Ħamrun Spartans.
After setting up Uchenna Umeh Calistus for Valletta's opener 13 minutes into the second half, Malano sealed Valletta's win with a rising effort 18 minutes from the end.
“We were coming from two games where we didn’t take maximum points and therefore it was imperative to collect the three points from this match,” Valletta coach Paul Zammit said afterwards.
“It was a deserved win for us but it’s important that we build on this performance.”
Valletta are now five points behind Hibernians in third place while the Spartans remain eighth after slipping to their third consecutive defeat.
Floriana strengthened their top-four quest after edging Birkirkara 2-1 in a hard-fought encounter on Saturday.
Separated by only one point before kick-off, Floriana and Birkirkara were determined to emerge victorious from their direct clash but it was the Greens who made the stronger start.
The game was only three minutes old when Mario Fontanella slotted home from close in after good work by Ryan Camenzuli.
The Italian striker doubled Floriana’s lead early in the second half to leave Birkirkara facing an uphill struggle to salvage something from the game.
Vito Plut’s stoppage-time goal came too late for the Stripes to force a late comeback.
Birkirkara have now dropped to fifth on 37 points, two behind Floriana.
The clashes involving teams in the lower end of the standings served up a goal feast as Gżira United came from behind to beat St Andrews 3-2 and Pembroke Athleta trounced fellows-in-distress Mosta 5-0.
St Andrews were off to a great start as Aidan Friggieri, a January signing from Sliema Wanderers, rifled home from close in after 13 minutes.
Louis Rene Zome equalised for Gżira in first-half stoppage time, turning in a cross from Andrew Cohen, but the Saints regained the lead five minutes into the second half.
Clifford Gatt Baldacchino was adjudged to have struck the ball with his hand and Ivan Edgardo Paz drilled his shot past Jurgen Borg, the Gżira United goalkeeper.
It was then Gżira's turn to be awarded a penalty after Michael Johnson committed a handball. Cohen steered his effort past Jake Galea for his second goal, both from penalties, since joining Gzira.
The Maroons secured the points five minutes from time when in-form midfielder Juan Corbalan scored with a crisp finish.
Goals from Tonci Radovnikovic and Andrea Scozzese gave Pembroke a 2-0 half-time lead in their basement duel with Mosta.
The dismissal of playmaker Pedrinho – for a reckless tackle on Zoran Levnaic – 13 minutes into the second half further compounded matters for Mosta who crumbled thereafter.
Stevan Raic converted a penalty 19 minutes from time and, moments later, Daren Falzon made it 4-0 for Pembroke with a close-range effort.
Adrian Borg, who was facing his former team, got the fifth in stoppage time as Pembroke opened a four-point gap on Mosta.