City back in business Published on: 23-04-2013

Saturday’s stalemate between Birkirkara and Mosta was greeted with enthusiasm in the Valletta clan as it handed them a hitherto unexpected lifeline in so far as their title chances are concerned.

Until a few weeks ago, Valletta’s quest for a treble of successive titles looked doomed after the champions succumbed to three consecutive defeats but the past eight days have altered the landscape at the top, raising the prospect of an enthralling climax to the race for league glory.

Valletta’s erstwhile flailing hopes had received a tremendous boost on Saturday but the Citizens needed to overcome Tarxien to fully capitalise on Birkirkara’s partial slip-up.

On the surface, Valletta’s task looked straightforward but they ought to have been wary about facing Tarxien after their 3-2 loss to the same opponents last month precipitated a depressing run that looked to have snuffed out all their championship hopes.

This time around, Valletta averted what would have been a colossal upset as two goals inside the opening 13 minutes settled their nerves, putting them on the way to a deserved victory.

They eventually prevailed by a two-goal margin after Tarxien’s belated reaction yielded a consolation goal but Valletta should have won more convincingly only to squander a series of chances, albeit this was also due to a string of fine interventions from opposing goalkeeper Nicholas Vella, once on the books of the Citizens.

While the three points were what mattered most for Valletta, the fans will also have been delighted with their team’s determined approach as Mark Miller’s men tore into their opponents from the off with Ryan Fenech leading the charge with his marauding runs from midfield.

The boisterous applause as the City players headed for the dressing room at the final whistle reflected the satisfaction of the Valletta faithful who are now looking forward to their team’s crunch clashes with contenders Birkirkara and Hibs in the next two weeks.

Deprived of two first-choice strikers in Michael Mifsud, suspended, and Demba Toure, injured, Valletta coach Mark Miller restored Denni and Abu-bakar Bello Osagie to the starting XI. Also making a return for the Citizens was Fenech who got the green light to start ahead of Brazilian Gabriel.

With captain Roderick Briffa only certified fit to start on the bench and Mifsud absent, the armband was awarded to William Barbosa. The Brazilian stationed himself in front of a four-man defence in a 4-1-3-2 formation with Denni, Bello-Osagie and Dyson Falzon granted the liberty to interchange in attack.

Tarxien’s initial formation featured two changes from the 4-2 defeat of Mosta as Justin Grioli and Branislav Timotic replaced Mark Tanti and Gianluca Calabretta respectively. Clive Mizzi, the Tarxien coach, kept faith with 4-2-3-1, Daniel Mariano Bueno leading the line and fellow Brazilian Andrezinho roaming between the lines.

Valletta’s resolve to take maximum points was in abundant evidence when the champions seized the lead after just four minutes.

Fenech was the architect as he combined speed and power to dispossess David Fenech just outside the box before sending in a cross towards the far post where the un-marked Denni headed past Vella.

Denni’s opener further lifted the spirits of the Valletta fans who gleefully sang ‘Ä ejjin minn wara’ (we’re coming from behind) in reference to their team’s resurgence as title challengers.

Eight minutes into the game, Valletta again had the ball in the Tarxien net as Falzon prodded home after profiting from a goalmouth melee but the City winger was offside.

Eyes were again drawn to Falzon when he surged into the box before going down after being challenged by Grioli but Valletta’s penalty appeals were turned away by Andorran referee Ignasi Villamayor.

Tarxien breathed a sigh of relief but theirs was a temporary reprieve as they fell further behind on 13 minutes.

Belgian defender Jason Lee Vandelannoite embarked on a surging run on the right before arrowing a perfect cross that was met by the diving Bello-Osagie whose fine header had the better of Vella.

The Rainbows created their first glimmer of a chance, defender Steve Bonnici heading over from Andrezinho’s corner.

Two goals to the good, Valletta maintained an iron grip on the match as Tarxien offered very little going forward to the point that Yenz Cini was a spectator for most of the opening half-hour.

Denni combined well with Bello-Osagie as the latter held off his marker to tee up the Brazilian but his central effort was easily saved by Vella.

Nine minutes from half-time, Valletta should have made the points safe when, in a sweeping breakaway, Denni released Fenech who accelerated into the box before laying the ball back for Bello-Osagie but the Nigerian’s goalbound attempt was headed away for a corner by Ryan Sammut.

At the other end, Cini produced his first save when stopping Andrew Agius’s header.

As if to underline their supre-macy, Valletta fashioned two chances in a matter of seconds as Denni came face to face with Vella but the Tarxien custodian denied his former team-mate. Denni was first to the loose ball and crossed towards the far post but Bello-Osagie blasted over.

The onslaught continued, Vella again thwarting Valletta when pushing away Edmond Agius’s effort after the latter had been sent clear by Vandelannoite.

Having made his first substitution late in the first half when Orosco Anonam came in for Bonnici, Tarxien coach Mizzi made another two changes at the start of the second period, Brazilian striker Leandro and Roderick Bajada taking the place of Sammut and Fenech respectively.

Denni almost made it 3-0 but his sizzling shot from outside the area whistled past the near post.

The introduction of Leandro, a forward, to provide support for Bueno increased Tarxien’s attacking threat but it was Valletta who came close to extending their advantage when Fenech raced into the box from the right but his cross was cut out by Vella.

Danger again beckoned Tarxien when Bello-Osagie’s floated pass sent Daniel Bogdanovic through but the latter’s lob was fisted away by Vella. Bogdanovic had just come on for Falzon.

Reprieved, Tarxien almost pulled one back but Bueno’s angled drive from inside the box was pawed away by Cini.

Twenty minutes into the second half, Vella again foiled his former team when turning Denni’s grounder around the post after the Brazilian had received from the enterprising Fenech.

A third Valletta goal was looking inevitable and it came 22 minutes from time from a penalty after Leandro was adjudged to have handled Bello-Osagie’s cross.

Barbosa sent Vella the wrong way from the spot.

Tarxien reduced the arrears 11 minutes from time.

Luke Dimech lost possession inside the City box as Andrezinho passed to Bajada who was crowded out by the Valletta players but the loose ball rolled into the path of the Brazilian who scored from point blank.

Bogdanovic, still looking rusty after being plagued by a series of injuries this season, volleyed wide from inside the box.

With four minutes remaining, Anonam headed just over the bar from Andrezinho’s corner as Tarxien threatened to make Valletta pay for spurning so many chances.

Ian Azzopardi rescued his team from a dangerous situation as he made a timely block on Bueno after good work by Bajada.

Source - Times of Malta