Ħamrun and Floriana making it a two-horse race

Ħamrun Spartans had the easiest of tasks to preserve their top position in the Premier League ladder on match day 16 when they had it all their way as they beat bottom team Gudja by 4-0. At the same time, Floriana kept abreast by beating Hibernians in the weekend’s top match. Other teams just below these two dropped points to make it a two-horse race between Ħamrun and Floriana for the championship.

Ħamrun Spartans ….. 4 Gudja United ….. 0

Ħamrun were never in trouble. Though they had a most comfortable 4-0 victory, they could have even scored more if they had set their minds to it, and Gudja’s goalkeeper, Justin Spiteri, was not on hand to save his side on several other occasions.

It was the Spartans’ second win over these same opponents in three days. On Thursday, they beat them 3-0 in an FA Trophy match. Ħamrun retained their three-point lead over Floriana.

The Spartans made their intentions known from the outset, and it only took them four minutes to open the scoring through Luke Montebello, who rounded his direct opponent before lashing the ball into the net.

The same player came to the fore on two other occasions when he threatened to score, but on both occasions, the Gudja goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue with fine saves. However, the Gudja keeper could do nothing when Seth Painstil doubled the victors’ lead in the 26th minute from a header, and Freitas da Silva scored a third right on half-time with another header from a Montebello corner.

Ħamrun continued their dominance on the change-over, and a Uros Duranovic effort again brought out the best of Justin Spiteri in the opposing goal. The only time Gudja looked like scoring was after 57 minutes when Godwin Imre’s shot hit the side netting.

The Spartans’ day was complete when they rounded up the scoring when Uros Duranovic netted a fourth goal in the 77th minute, leaving Gudja anchored at the bottom with only six points.

Floriana ….. 1 Hibernians ….. 0

By beating Hbernians with a goal in each half for a 2-0 victory, Floriana maintained their challenge to Premier League leaders Ħamrun Spartans. However, they needed some luck to achieve the win as they were second best for most of the ties,

Hibernians might consider themselves unlucky to come out of the ordeal empty-handed, as they created enough scoring opportunities in the first half that if they had taken them, they could have built a comfortable advantage for the second half to at least share the spoils.

By the 12th minute, Hibernians had already put pressure on Floriana when Jurgen Degabriele found a way through but had a powerful shot blocked by Maksim Valadsko.

Floriana responded with an Alexander Kouro effort in the 24th minute that the Hibs goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone saved. But it was again, the Paolites who looked dangerous when Caruana shot found Degabriele, who fluffed his shot when it looked easier to score. Then Giannis Bastianos’ was lucky to have a shot bounce off the Floriana upright.

As it turned out, with fewer chances, Floriana paved the way for the win when they scored against the run of play.

Despite fewer chances, they came out victorious after paving the way for success with a goal on the stroke of halftime by Kemar Reid off a Willis Furtado assist. The same player could even have added to the Greens’ lead.

The advantage helped Floriana to take control of the proceedings in the second half. When they doubled their advantage with a second goal by Matheus de Souza after 66 minutes, they never looked back and eventually got all three points.

In their reply after 71 minutes, Hibernians had a shot by Antwi blocked by Valadsko, and Degabriele shot over the bar from the rebound. In added time, Floriana could have added to their lead, but Valadsko’s shot smashed against the upright while defender Shaw denied Reid from the rebound.

Sliema Wanderers ….. 0 Mosta ….. 0

After a bright start to the season of late, Sliema Wanderers have eased up. When they faced relegation-haunted Mosta at the weekend, they were a disappointment as in the end, although dominating, for the third match running, they could only figure in a draw, this time a scoreless one.

The sharing of the spoils was a just result, as none of the two teams deserved more than a share of the points. It was a lack-lustre game with very few scoring opportunities that, in the end, might have somewhat pleased Mosta for getting a point from a top team in their struggle to avoid relegation. They stay fourth from bottom, just two points ahead of Santa Lucia.

Marsaxlokk ….. 1 Sirens ….. 1

Marsaxlokk dropped two critical points in a 1-1 draw against Sirens that could cost them dearly in their bid to win participation in a European competition come May. A measly point did not help Sirens much in their struggle to avoid the drop. They remain 10 points away from safety and are just two above the bottom team.

Marsaxlokk were the better team in the first half and deservedly went ahead after 23 minutes directly from a Leandro Aguirre freekick. Sirens dominated most of the second session, in which they managed to draw level and even came close to getting the winning tally.

Sirens obtained their leveller in the 55th minute from Degran Jackson, who beat Drobnjak in the Marsaxlokk goal with a thundering shot from outside the penalty area. They also threatened to get all three points in the 77th minute when Drobnjak saved Jackson’s effort.

In their only threatening move in the second half, Marsaxlokk could have clinched victory, but Sunsay Akinbule’s header hit the crossbar.

Birkirkara ….. 1 Valletta ….. 0

Birkirkara stopped their disappointing run with a slender last-gasp victory over Valletta by 1-0 thanks to a goal three minutes in stoppage time. Valletta thought they had done enough throughout the match to deserve at least a share of the points. But in the end, they must feel unlucky to leave empty-handed.

The victory puts Birkirkara level on points with Hibernians in fifth place. It gives them some hope that, in the end, they could also challenge for a place in a European competition.

At the end of a balanced match, Birkirkara scored the all-important goal at the death through Alessandro Coppola, who headed home at the end of a corner-kick action. A Valletta defender’s desperate attempt to clear the ball to safety came to nought as it was from behind the goal line.

Gzira United ….. 1 Naxxar Lions ….. 0

A goal by Thiago Espinosa in the 55th minute against Naxxar Lions pushed Gżira United out of the relegation zone a point over Mosta and at the same level as Valletta with 18 points. However, they are still far from safe.

Action from Gzira United (maroons) and Naxxar Lions. Photo: Walter Sargent

It was a most-deserved victory for Gzira. They dominated their opponents and created enough scoring chances throughout the 90 minutes to make it safe for them much before the final whistle.

Naxxar, who were so impressive in the campaign’s initial stages, disappointed in this match. This defeat comes on top of their most recent one in the last outing against Ħamrun, which they lost by 4-1.

Gzira threw themselves whole-heartedly on attack and could have forged ahead after two minutes had Lucas Macula’s effort not been stopped by the post.

After taking the lead, Gzira eased up but still held the upper hand and easily contained all Naxxar had to throw at them.

Santa Lucia ….. 1 Balzan ….. 0

In their struggle to avoid relegation, Santa Lucia produced a fighting performance against a disappointing Balzan that rewarded them with a 1-0 victory and three crucial points that helped them boost their hopes of avoiding the drop. They are two points behind Mosta but still third from bottom.

Sta Lucia faced a side in Balzan that has been hard to score. They have yet to find the opposing net in the last four matches.

The winning tally arrived in the 74th minute when Evandro won possession and finished his impressive run by serving substitute Sena Silva to score the winning goal via the underside of the bar.

Ħamrun Spartans1641
Sliema Wanderers1631
Naxxar Lions1621
Gzira United1618
Santa Lucia1615
Gudja United166
Premier League standings after 16 matches

By Joseph Cutajar

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