Saturday 17th September 2016 – Balzan came back from two goals down to hold Valletta in a 2-2 draw in a clash between two teams who had claimed maximum points from their first three matches

Valletta’s neat and intricate passing in the first half, during which they took a two-goal lead, was enough to make Balzan look clumsy.

At that juncture many would have thought Valletta would inflict the first defeat on Balzan with an eye-catching win and maintain their perfect start.

But the champions completely switched off in the second half. Inevitably, the balance of power shifted and an impressive effort by Balzan saw them level matters and earn a deserved point at the end.

Valletta were hampered with absences of the suspended Claudio Pani and the serious injury to Roderick Briffa, as Umeh Uchenna deputised for him with a fearsomely committed display in midfield. John Bonello was back in goal after missing out the previous match against Pembroke.

Balzan played with four at the back, Paul Fenech and Dylan Grima in front of them while Alfred Effiong, Abdelkarim Nafti and Mateo Piciollo supported their central striker Bojan Kaljevic in an offensive formation.

But Balzan missed strength in depth in midfield and Valletta’s superiority in that sector suggested they will cause their opponents several problems.

After a quiet quarter hour, both sides produced two half chances at opposite ends. Abdelkarim Nafti, playing against his former team, shot narrowly wide when well served by Bojan Kaljevic. On the other end Jhonnattann’s Benites da Conceicao’s rasping grounder from the left missed the target by inches.

But Balzan were caught woefully open at the back on 16 minutes. From almost an identical position, defender LEANDRO AGUIRRE advanced on Santiago Malano’s pass to beat keeper Ivan Janjusevic with a low strike.

Balzan tried to regroup but were finding things extremely difficult when stifled by Valletta’s crowded midfield.

In fact Valletta’s threat was always through the middle. UCHENNA CALISTUS UMEH continued to be the most threating player on the pitch and in the half’s added time he took the ball in his stride, swivelled past three opponents with a sublime piece of skill before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the keeper’s left.

The match turned on its head after the interval. Bojan Kaljevic, who had been relatively quiet in the first half proved the catalyst for a breathless start to the second which saw Balzan take advantage of Valletta’s looseness at the back and score twice in the space of four minutes to draw level.

In the 50th minute Matteo Piciollo played the ball forward to Alfred Effiong who put BOJAN KALJEVIC clear inside the Valletta area and beat keeper John Bonello with a low drive.

Bojan Kaljevic provided the assist for Balzan’s equaliser four minutes later, heading the ball down for ABDELKARIM NAFTI to shoot past the Valletta keeper. There were muted celebrations for the former Valletta player.

Balzan suddenly grew in confidence. Alfred Effiong had an effort going slightly wide and on 67 minutes Matteo Picciollo’s low shot was palmed into a corner by the outstretched John Bonello.

Valletta were suddenly struggling for rhythm. Michael Mifsud went in for the inocuous Fedrerico Falcone. Balzan introduced Clive Brincat and Terence Agius to preserve their point and their unbeaten record.

BALZAN : Ivan Jajnusevic, Bojan Kaljevic, Bruno Giglio de Oliveira, Steve Bezzina, Dylan Grima (83′ Lydon Micallef), Paul Fenech, Alfred Effiong, Justin Grioli, Abdelkarim Nafti (74′ Clive Brincat), Elkin Serrano Valero, Matteo Piciollo (77′ Terence Agius).

VALLETTA : Henry Bonello, Jonathan Caruana, Steve Borg, Juan Cruz Gill, Santiago Malano, Jean Borg, Federico Falcone (73′ Michael Mifsud), Uchenna Calistus Umeh (90+1′ Jurgen Suda), Leandro Aguirre, Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao, Romeu Pericles Romao (81′ Ian Azzopardi).

Referee: Fyodor Zammit

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