Ali Diakite’s late goal spared Birkirkara’s blushes after the Stripes blew a two-goal lead to finally edge out Gżira United 3-2.
The Maroons looked like they might have earned themselves a point when they equalised with five minutes left as Lucas Macula’s cross ended up in the net as Jovan Pajovic diverted the ball into his own net.
Later on, Valletta and Balzan shared a goalless draw in an uninspiring battle at Ta’ Qali while Sirens bagged their first win of the Premier League season.
Birkirkara caretaker coach Brian Chetcuti had made four changes from the team that drew against Gudja United, three days before with Pajovic, Paul Mbong, Alexander Satariano and Maxuell Maia back in the starting formation. But his much-changed line-up did not take long to find their rhythm.
The Stripes dominated possession in the opening phase of the match and their measured control of the football was in stark contrast to the Maroons’ quick and direct approach.
In the 12th minute, Maia slotted the Stripes ahead when Andrei Ciolacu squared a precise ball in the box and the Brazilian striker flicked the ball past Darijan Zarkov.
The Maroon attempted to find a goal in a bid to break the negative sequence of two consecutive defeats.
On 35 minutes, Thaylor fired wide before Marcelo Dias saw his one-on-one effort saved by Marcel Zapytowski.
On 67 minutes, another good move led to Maia teeing up Ciolacu who hit a fierce drive behind Zarkov.
Zapytowski was able to take a back set for much of the game but one minute later, the Polish goalkeeper had no chance when Lucas Macula hit a precise finish after taking one touch to bring the ball under control.
The Brazilian winger stole the show in the closing minutes when his cross was diverted into his own net by Pajovic, five minutes from time.
As both sides pushed for a winner in an open game, Birkirkara keeper Zapytowski did brilliantly to turn Hytem Kabar’s shot around the post.
But Gżira’s fate was sealed on stoppage time when Birkirkara struck ruthlessly on the counter-attack. Zarkov could do nothing about the strike of Diakite when the Ivory Coast midfielder punished Gżira’s flat-out approach.
Valletta held by Balzan
Later, Valletta held the upper hand to edge Balzan in the possession stakes and look lively in attack. However, it ended all square at the final whistle.
Brandon Paiber tested the Balzan defence on seven minutes with a curling free-kick which Ryohei Michibuchi did well to hook it off the line.
The Balzan defence was kept busy during an action-packed first half, in particular keeper Danilo Golovic.
On 25 minutes, the Brazilian striker Jhonnattann saw his one-on-one effort saved by the Serbian goalkeeper, before Andrè Prates showed excellent bravery to deny Federico Vega from the rebound.
The moment referee Matthew de Gabriele signalled the start of the second half, torrential rain swept across the National Stadium, drenching the players for the rest of the match.
Valletta gradually started to string passes together but lacked the killer ball in the final third.
On 58 minutes, David Garba cut a frustrated figure when some lovely triangulation down the right channel by Paiber and Jhonnattan worked an opening into the box for the Nigerian striker but he failed to connect to the ball in front of a gaping goal.
Valletta continued to look the more likely to score and Jhonnattaan’s header missed the target from a cross by Paiber on 75 minutes. In the end, the Argentine-born midfielder was desperately unlucky not to score when he saw his fierce strike finishing just wide.
With just a point in three matches, Valletta remained dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Sirens score first win
Struggling Sirens came from a goal down to overcome relegation rivals Gudja United at the Centenary Stadium.
Gudja United enjoyed the better play in the first half and could have taken the lead on 19 minutes, when Sirens goalkeeper Andrea Cassar fouled Aboue Toure inside the area. But from the spot, Cassar denied Toure.
But that was a temporary reprieve for Sirens, as Gudja took the lead on 27 minutes when Gabriel Mensah picked Ricardo Fernandes who nodded the ball into the path of Toure who fired home.
Sirens hit back after the break and they drew level on 53 minutes when Degran Jackson broke free on the right before sending a cross into the path of Daniel Agius, who had just replaced Jonathan Hinestroza, fired home.
The St Paul’s Bay side completed the comeback on 68 minutes when Sacha Borg was floored inside the area and from the resultant penalty Kwasi Domu made no mistake.
GUDJA UNITED 1
Agius 53, Domu 68
GUDJA UNITED Y. Sozer, Brenner, S. Cipriott, S. Attard (74 M. Conti), J. Arthur, G. Mensah, R. Fernandes, K. Micallef, Z. Grech (74 N. Tabone), A. Toure, M. Esposito (84 G. Lorenzoni).
SIRENS A. Cassar, T. Bettim, P. Owusu, N. Pulis, J. Hinestroza (46 D. Agius), H. Akadom (88 J. Borg), A. Cini, B. Asare (90 C. Agyemang), S. Borg, K.Donsu, D. Jackson.
Referee: Ezekiel Barbara.
Yellow cards: Cassar, Borg, Toure.
Missed penalty: Toure (G) 17.
Maia 12, Ciolacu 67, Diakate 90
GŻIRA UNITED 2
Macula 68, Pajovic 85og
BIRKIRKARA M. Zapytowski, J. Pajovic, E. Pepe, Y. Yankam, P. Mbong, K. Zammit, A. Satariano, N. Micallef, A. Diakite, M. Maia (87 Adailton), A. Ciolacu (87 O. Elouni).
GŻIRA UNITED D. Zarkov, C. Conceicao, G. Bohrer, A. Borg, Thaylor, Z. Scerri, M. Dias (83 H. Kabar), L. Macula, F. Zuniga (83 R. Essaka), Ewertton, T. Espindola.
Referee: Andrea Sciriha
Yellow cards: Diakate, Zammit, Pepe.
BALZAN D. Golovic, I. Bozovic (90 N. Zerjal), A. Prates, S. Arab (90 G. Farrugia), P. Fenech, J. Grech, D. Awosanya, R. Michibuchi (77 B. Hili), A. Katanic (68 P. Olawale), N. Braunovic (46 T. Caruana), M.Raso.
VALLETTA J. Galea, J. Bolanos, E. Ruiz, O. Barrientos, S. Dimech (90 A.H. Silas), F. Falcone (22 Jhonnttan), D. Paiber, V. Filho, D. Vega, N. Micallef, D. Garba.
Referee: Matthew de Gabriele
Yellow cards: Filho, Bozovic, Rasu.
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