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Late goal sees Floriana open three-point lead at the top

In-form Naxxar Lions, Marsaxlokk secure victories as Sliema beat Hibernians.

Lorenzo De Grazia 90.

Lorenzo De Grazia scored a late winner to hand Floriana a dramatic victory over neighbours Valletta and become the sole leaders of the Premier League.

The Greens have now opened a three-point lead at the top after capitalising on Ħamrun Spartans’ false step after losing to Birkirkara on Saturday.

Mauro Camoranesi’s side did not muster a lot of goal scoring opportunities but were always proactive in their performance, especially in the second half where they dominated proceedings before making their pressure count.  

The Italian coach’s gamble to be more offensive in the final stages paid off having inserted wingback Lorenzo De Grazia as well as forwards Kyrian Nwoko and Mattia Veselji in an effort to clinch a precious win – their fifth in their last six league encounters against Valletta.

Meanwhile, Valletta remain 10th in the 14-team championship with 10 points after conceding their third defeat of the season – their second since coach Vincenzo Potenza took over from Thane Micallef in October.

Just before kick-off, the Valletta coach was forced to remove highly-experienced defender Enzo Ruiz from the starting line up and replace him with Maltese youngster Christian Gauci.

On the other hand, Floriana were missing defender Oualid El-Hasni due to suspension with former Italy international Camoranesi deploying Carlo Zammit Lonardelli in his absence.

The Citizens, looking to score their first league goal against Floriana in six games, threatened first through forward Federico Falcone with a brilliant long-range effort only to sail over the bar.

On the other hand, Floriana forced Jake Galea into action through a Jose Arias header from inside the penalty area, followed up by Owen Spiteri who tried to score his second straight goal from a set-piece after finding the net in last week’s Old Firm derby against Sliema Wanderers.

Valletta’s captain Shaun Dimech squandered a brilliant chance to put his side ahead when he missed the target from near the penalty spot after a Santiago Ferraris’ cutback.

Just before half-time, Valletta goalkeeper Galea made a crucial intervention to deny Kemar Reid after the Malta international forward try to lob a brilliant header over him.

After the change of ends, Floriana inched their way up the field to try and take control of the match while Valletta were now more compact, looking to catch their opponents on the break.

Yet, it was Valletta who produced a big chance – their only one in the second half – when Jhonnatthan hit a volley from outside the area but was not enough to beat Georgi Kitanov.

Despite their pressure, Floriana found it difficult to breakthrough Valletta’s organised backline with Maksim Valadzko trying to test Galea with a long strike.

With Camoranesi reshaping the attacking department, the Greens kept their feet on the gas pedal and there was huge delight among their fans when De Grazia converted into goal from point-blank range, handing Floriana a derby win.  

Marcilio 16, Maicon 87 (N); Mensah 20 (G).

Maicon’s late goal handed an in-form Naxxar Lions their fourth win of the season after beating Gudja United in Sunday’s early kick-off.

George Vella’s Lions side continue to prove themselves as the surprise package of the season so far, as they now sit fifth on 15 points.

The newly-promoted side have now won their last three straight matches which included stern tests against Balzan and Birkirkara.

However, the Gudja encounter was equally important to the Lions as they are looking to salvage their Premier League status as early as possible.

Marcilio, one of the most impressive foreigners in this campaign, had opened the score for Naxxar.

Gudja United, on their part, find themselves in more trouble after this defeat as they slip to second-bottom on five points.

On Saturday, Sta Lucia had pipped them to 12th after claiming their first win of the season over Mosta.

Gabriel Mensah had levelled terms for Jesmond Zammit’s team midway into the first half but it was not enough for Gudja to avoid their fourth defeat of the season.

Lucas Macula 1, Farid Zuniga 81 (G); Leandro Aguirre 40, Yuri 61, Sunday Akinbule 76, 83 (M).

Another positive result for another side whose form has been very strong so far as Marsaxlokk maintain their position after dispatching of Gżira United.

Winston Muscat’s side were looking to bounce back from last week’s narrow defeat against Ħamrun Spartans and managed to do score by scoring four goals in a six-goal thriller.

Moreover, Marsaxlokk have now cut the gap to four points from second-place Spartans after Ħamrun’s defeat against Birkirkara.

Darren Abdilla’s Gżira United have fallen to their fourth defeat of the season despite having scored first through Lucas Macula inside the opening minute of the game.

Marsaxlokk, though, scored three times without reply through Leandro Aguirre, Yuri and Sunday Akinbule to open a comfortable two-goal lead.

The Maroons, who at that point were down to nine man after Luis Riascos and Gabriel Bohrer were given the marching orders, pulled one back through Farid Zuniga.

However, Marsaxlokk – down to ten players – wrapped up the win through another Akinbule goal.

Standings provided by Sofascore

Denis Koauo 67

A second-half goal by Denis Koauo was enough to put daylight between Sliema Wanderers and Hibernians, handing the Blues their fifth win of the campaign.

Paul Zammit’s side rejoin Marsaxlokk on 16 points as they bounce back from last week’s Old Firm defeat at the hands of Floriana.

Kuoao scored the all important goal on the 67th minute to sink Hibernians to their fourth defeat of the season.

Branko Nisevic’s side remain sixth on 13 points as they see their run of positive results come to an end after picking up seven points in their last three outings.

Photo: Dominic Borg.

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