TARXIEN RAINBOWS - 0
Tarxien R: P. Schranz, E. Baker, E. Marcelina, T. Caruana, D. Ponce, A. Nilsson, S. Prendes (A. Azzopardi), D. Zerafa, A. Alves (J. Galea), M. Tabone, S. Borg (K. Zammit)
Floriana: J. Haber, A. Scicluna (A. Cini), E. Pepe, A. Monticelli, S. Pisani, M. Fontanella, S. Nayar, J. Pisani, R. Camenzuli, N. Chiesa (M. Vella) (C. Borg), A. Samb
Referee: F. Zammit
Asst.refs: A. Camilleri, C. Azzopardi
4th official: A.M. Sant
Scorers: M. Fontanella 88
Yellow cards: A. Scicluna, D. Zerafa, S. Pisani, E. Pepe
Player of the match: P. Schranz (Tarxien R)
TMI top 3: 1. N. Chiesa 2. P. Schranz 3. S. Pisani
Photos Domenic Aquilina
Mario Fontanella rewarded Floriana’s efforts with a late winner, two minutes from time, against a Tarxien Rainbows side in critical shortage of goals.
Floriana had slightly the edge in the first half and might count themselves unlucky not to have opened the score early, as Samb was denied by the woodwork. Tarxien seemed to struggle to keep up with the pace and inventive of Chiesa and Nayar in the Floriana midfield, as well as the delivery of Steve Pisani on set pieces.
But there was little between the two teams in the first 45 minutes as the Rainbows also had their moments and worked keeper Haber.
The second half belonged to Floriana though, who dominated possession, hit the post and contrived to miss a penalty until they were rewarded with a late winner.
Following two winless matches, Floriana coach Giovanni Tedesco freshened his side yesterday. Ruiz and Varela were both suspended as Justin Haber returned in goal. Tedesco gave starts to Andre Scicluna, Antonio Monticelli, Sebastian Nayar, Steve Pisani and Ryan Camenzuli with Matthew Grech, Clyde Borg, Maurizio Vella and Alex Cini relegated to the bench.
The intensity that went missing in the Greens’ last matches, was back in evidence yesterday. It was they who showed the urgency, consistently first on the second ball all afternoon in a match they never looked like losing.
Tarxien had lost all their previous four matches, in which they failed to score. Yesterday they had Sergio Prendes back in the starting line-up. But their cutting edge was again blunted and the goal drought has been stretched to 90 more minutes.
Floriana won the right to play their football and their control in the initial stages was impressive. On a Steve Pisani corner from the right, after seven minutes, Samb headed the ball against the bar.
And midway through the half, on a Chiesa cross from the right, Fontanella hit narrowly wide.
After defending stoutly for much of the first half hour, Tarxien carried the first threat after 36 minutes. Caruana’s free kick from the left fell to Nilsson, whose firm header was repelled superbly by keeper Haber. A minute later, Chiesa reached for Nayar’s floating free kick at the other end but keeper Schranz was equal to task and produced a reflex save into a corner.
With halftime looming, Tarxien threatened again. They raked a high ball inside the Floriana area but Ponce’s shot was blocked with difficulty by keeper Haber.
Floriana started the second half promisingly enough and created more scoring opportunities. Chiesa played the ball forward for Fontanella to lay it in the path of Samb who shot against the side netting.
Towards the hour, Samb chased a long ball forward by Fontanella but, when challenged by Zerafa, he narrowly missed the target.
On 66 minutes the Greens went close to breaking the deadlock. On Steve Pisani’s dangerous free kick, Tarxien’s clearance fell to Monticelli whose cross was headed by Fontanella against the post and Nayar’s shot from the rebound was blocked on the line.
On 70 minutes a Steve Pisani free kick went through the Tarxien wall but keeper Schranz stretched himself to hold out the ball. Floriana kept working the Tarxien keeper as Chiesa tested him again with a shot from a distance.
The match’s defining moment came on 75 minutes. Sacha Borg felled Steve Pisani inside the area to concede a penalty. But Nayar marred a superlative performance when he skied the ball from the spot.
But Floriana’s attacking ambition kept tormenting their opponents. With two minutes remaining, Nayar played a deep ball from the left for Mario Fontanell to hit first-time past the helpless Schranz.
It was more than Floriana deserved, although Tarxien went close to an equaliser when Nilsson’s header, off Baker’s cross, was turned into a corner by the agile keeper Haber.
SLIEMA WANDERERS - 1
BIRKIRKARA - 1
Sliema W: G. Sarao, A. Muscat, F. Temile (R. Spiteri), D. Dos Santos, M. Scerri (P. Xuereb), J. Pearson, S. Biancardi, R. Correa, J.P. Farrugia, L. Incorvaia, G. Aquilina (M. Muchardi)
Birkirkara: H. Bonello, E. Herrera , C. Bubalovic, G. Sciberras, E. Agius (J. Obregon), S. Dimitrov (R. Scicluna), M. Andelkovic (M. Guillaumier), N. Vukanac, J. Zerafa, M. Alba, C. Attard
Referee: M. Spiteri
Asst.refs: J. Spiteri, C. Francalanza
4th official: G. Tonna
Scorers: M. Alba 11, D. Dos Santos 18
Yellow cards: L. Incorvaia, J. Zerafa, D. Dos Santos, F. Temile, M. Alba, J. Pearson
Player of the match: D. Dos Santos (Sliema W)
TMI top 3: 1. D. Dos Santos 2. R. Correa 3. J. Zerafa
This was supposed to be the day when Birkirkara won to consolidate their place into the top four. Instead they had to settle for a draw against strugglers Sliema Wanderers, who have only won three times since the start of the year.
Following Floriana’s win earlier in the afternoon, the Stripes now drop to fifth, one point adrift.
The lack of ruthlessness continues to harm Birkirkara’s chances of European qualification.
Despite taking an early lead through a Miguel Alba direct free kick, they lacked the guile in congested area to unpick their rivals. Their passing was out of sync and they lacked composure.
The Sliema defenders pinned them back on the flanks while Denni’s effervescence, and a combatitive midfield with the likes of Jonathan Pearson and Mark Scerri, held sway at the centre. Birkirkara have failed to beat their rivals in three matches this season.
Photos Domenic Aquilina
Admittedly there was much to admire in the Wanderers’ refusal to wilt when falling behind and after drawing level through their best player Denni Dos Santos, they never experienced any inferiority complex as they now enjoy the comfort of mid-table security.
A notable absentee for Birkirkara was the suspended Gonzalo Malan but the Stripes made the better start and after three minutes a Vukanac header was neutralised by the Sliema keeper Sarao.
They went in front after 11 minutes. Miguel Alba beat the Sliema keeper with a low curling free kick from the edge of the area on the left.
At this point Birkirkara should have coasted, but instead Sliema hit back for an equaliser. On 18 minutes Denni Dos Santos capitalised on some defensive hesitation inside the Birkirkara area as he pounced on an Attard back pass to shoot in past keeper Bonello.
From then on, Birkirkara became increasingly frustrated and Sliema went close again towards the half hour with a Denni free kick that landed on teh roof of the net.
Birkirkara threatened but lacked punch. Herrera headed Alba’s deep cross wide before Sliema responded with a Temile incursion from the left, Birkirkara’s clearance fell to Pearson whose grounder was parried by Bonello only for Temile to win possession but was ruled offside.
At that stage Sliema were well in the game as it hurtled from one end to the other.
Birkirkara also had their chance just before the break. Alba, standing alone inside the six-yard box, sent a diagonal shot inches wide.
The second half was a sharp contrast to an eventful first. And even after Birkirkara introduced Jhon Obregon, and later Ryan Scicluna, for Agius and Dimitrov, as the lack of goalscoring threat from midfield was highlighted, the forwards began to struggle. Mislav Andelkovic was also retreated by the Birkirkara coach on 75 minutes.
Perhaps relaxing a little, Birkirkara were experiencing some slapdash moments.
In the late stages Incorvaia headed Denni’s free kick narrowly over but the Stripes also fluffed their chance when the ball was cleared short from inside Sliema’s crowded area but substitute Matthew Guillaumier lofted the ball.