They say luck favours the brave and this was certainly the case on Sunday afternoon when Birkirkara claimed a win thank to Sliema Wanderers own goal, to stay two points clear on top of the table of the BOV Premier League.

With Hibernians beating Tarxien Rainbows with a comfortable 3-0 score, Birkirkara lost temporarily their sole-leadership to the same Hibernians with pressure continuing to pile-up, as only a win would see the Stripes to regain sole-leadership.

With the Stripes still to beat the Wanderers for the first time in this league, the Yellow-Reds performed a fine match, having a slight advantage over the Wanderers. Birkirkara should have broken the dead-lock in the first half as they created several opportunities to surge ahead in the first forty-five minutes, but it had to be an own goal which decides the three precious points.

On the other hand, one should not deny credit to Sliema Wanderers who once again performed a bold-defensive display which rarely left space for the Stripes’ strikers, with much of their attacks performed thanks to counter-attacks.

Mr. Paul Zammit who kept the 3-5-2 formation made three changes from the first-eleven selection which beat Tarxien Rainbows last week. Ryan Scicluna replaced Gareth Sciberras who was side-lined with injury while Shola Shodiya and Zach Muscat replaced Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza and Rodrigo Pereirarespectively.

The First Half

Sliema Wanderers, boosted by the fact they were still unbeaten by the Stripes took this season, took charge of the opening minutes but it did not take long for the Stripes to settle down and begin to play better football.

Hardly a minute passed, when Ian Zammit made the best out of an erratic pass and saw his low diagonal shot pushed away by Haber. To the surprise of many, referee Kevin Azzopardi ordered a goal-kick which was met by protests from the Wanderers’ clan.

The Wanderers’ still enjoying their slight advantage over Birkirkara, had Matthias Mucchardi firing a clever shot on the 11th minute, but it was not enough to beat an alert Justin Haber, as the National goalkeeper neutralised the effort.

Birkirkara began to settle down more and it was their time to shine and threaten to surge ahead, with most of the attacks started by the Nigerian forward, Shola Shodiya.

Mid-way through the first half, Birkirkara should have opened the score. Shodiya who was a torment for the Wanderers’ defence in the first half, sent a perfect low cross in direction of Jhonnattann. The Brazilian forward connected well, but Glenn Zammit made a fine interception from just a few meters away.

On the 27 minutes, Edward Herrera made a fine-solo action following a fast break-through. The National winger rounded two players before his vicious shot from outside the box had to bring the best out of goalkeeper Zammit who had to extend himself to the full to turn Herrera’s effort into a corner kick.

From the resulting corner kick, Birkirkara were once again denied from the opening goal. Jhonnattann’s perfect second post corner saw youngster Zach Muscat rising above everyone with his header beating Zammit but not the post to end up in a goal-kick.

Nine minutes from the end of the first half, Justin Haber had to perform a vital challenge as Shaun Bajadathreatened to break clear when he picked Ivan Woods’ ball.

Birkirkara suffered a draw back on the 37 minutes when Rowen Muscat sustained an injury and was unable to continue playing with Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza taking his place.

With no team performing a notable action till the end of the first forty-five minutes, referee Kevin Azzopardi sent the two teams to their dressing rooms with nothing to separate them.

The Second Half

As soon as the Stripes came out of their dressing room, they knew that they had only forty-five minutes to make things right.

Close to the hour mark, Joseph Zerafa performed one of his fast and solo over-laps but as soon as he was heading for the goal he was floored by Stefano Bianciardi who was then cautioned by the referee. From the resulting freekick, Jhonnattann’s striker blew over the bar.

Birkirkara had a penalty claim turned down by referee Kevin Azzopardi on the 63rd minute when Nikola Vukanac was scythed down by Bianciardi, but Azzopardi waved play on.

Finally, the dead-lock was broken on the 71st minute as the Stripes surged ahead thanks to an own goal by John Mintoff. Jhonnattann’s freekick, helped by the strong wind at the National Stadium surprised goalkeeper Glenn Zammit who lost his balance. The Wanderers’ keeper pushed the ball away, only to be hit by his team-mate John Mintoff to beat the same Zammit. The Birkirkara supporters erupted with joy.

Now Birkirkara could took a deep breathe as they found themselves in a goal-advantage, with less than twenty minutes to go.

Not wanting to risk anything, Mr. Paul Zammit made two substitutions in order to defend this narrow lead. On the 80th minute, Rodrigo Pereira replaced Shola Shodiya while on the 84th minute, Yosimar Hernandez replaced Jhonnattann.

Sliema Wanderers received another set-back when first Ian Zammit pushed Zach Muscat and was cautioned by the referee. The former Valletta striker kept protesting and spat in the direction of the Birkirkara supporters and referee Kevin Azzopardi had no choice than to send off Zammit and leave the Wanderers with 10 players.

There was still more drama in the offing. Paul Fenech produced a vital challenge to block Alex Muscat’s close-range shot in the dying minutes.

Kevin Azzopardi’s full time whistle found the Birkirkara supporters deservingly applauding their players for yet another step towards the Championship as the Stripes showed their great character in order to beat the Wanderers.

BIRKIRKARA: Justin Haber, Nikola Vukanac, Alejandro Mendoza, Zach Muscat, Joseph Zerafa, Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat (37’ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza), Ryan Scicluna, Edward Herrera, Shola Shodiya(80’ Rodrigo Pereira), Jhonnattann Da Concecao (84’ Yosimar Hernandez).

SLIEMA W: Glenn Zammit, Alex Muscat, Paltemio Barbetti, Mark Scerri, John Mintoff, Ian Zammit, Shaun Bajada (61′ Stanley Ohawuchi), Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Ivan Woods, Mathias Muchardi (80′ Luigi Ruggiero), Stefano Bianciardi.

Scorers: 71′ Own goal – John Mintoff.

Yellow Cards: 26’ Nikola Vukanac, 66’ Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara), 41′ Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, 60′ Stefano Bianciardi, 74′ Alex Muscat, 81′ Mark Scerri, 84′ Ian Zammit (Sliema Wanderers).

Red Cards: 85′ Ian Zammit.

Man of the match: Jhonnattann Da Concecao (Birkirkara).

Article by Birkirkara FC
Photo by Joe Borg