picture courtesy of http://www.vallettafc.net
About a million miles away (well, 1,917.8 miles to be exact) from the opening of Manchester City’s title defence at the City of Manchester Stadium, another domestic champion kicked off their season at home.
Also affectionately known as the Citizens to their loyal fans, Valletta F.C., the Maltese Premier Division Champions, began their own title defence against Tarxien Rainbows in front of a 1,599 strong crowd. And like their Manchester namesakes they kept the fans waiting before taking the points. In the end it took a 68th minute goal from substitute Jonathan Caruana to earn the capital city side the win.
Tarxien, a relegation candidate late into last season, started slow but grew into a solid defensive performance. Few could blame them for coming into the game with their eyes on a point and they managed to hold out far longer than most expected. However, the constant waves of attack tired out the Rainbows defence, and lacking any real firepower upfront they narrowly missed claiming what they came for.
Valletta debutant, Shaun Bajada, took just four minutes to open up the opposition defence, firing inches over the bar after finding space on the edge of the area. Minutes later, Citizens legend and all time Maltese national team top scorer, Michael Mifsud, repeated the trick – this time beating 3 opponents with a nifty turn of pace, before firing high.
Sensing that his sides dominance might gain them nothing from this fixture, Valletta coach Mark Millar made changes, and just 5 minutes after entering the field of play, centre-back Jonathan Caruana popped up to score with a well-placed header, after good work from Mifsud to win a corner.
The champions will be relieved to have made their dominance pay, and remain favourites to retain the title for the third straight year.
Monday night’s big game featured Hibernians entertaining Mosta, and they were quick out of the blocks – taking a 3-0 lead into the break. A 34th minute strike from Steve Pisani was swiftly followed by 2 in 2 minutes from one of the clubs 4 new Brazilian players – Marcelo Dias.
However, Mosta, another team who bravely fought the drop last season, had some fight left in them – or else Steve D’Amato had unleashed the hairdryer treatment at halftime. Looking stronger and more adventurous, the team created chances and were rewarded with a goal on 58 mins – last season’s star man Jonathan Bajada curling in an excellent effort to give some hope.
The pressure increased as the crowd grew restless, and up stepped Danail Mitev to fire in an unstoppable free-kick and make the score 3-2. Unfortunately for Mosta, the dramatic comeback could not be completed and Hibs desperately defended the slender advantage until the final whistle.
In other happenings from this first round of fixtures, Balzan FC missed a penalty, and Hamrun Spartans had a player sent off late into the game as the two teams played out an exciting 2-2 draw, and Birkirkara (3rd in last season’s Championship Group) impressed in a 4-0 rout of Melita.
Beginning with Issue 12 of WORLD FOOTBALL WEEKLY, join Andrew for weekly coverage of the Maltese Premier League