Thursday 22nd September 2016 – Balzan struck an early psychological blow and stole an early march on their rivals as they beat Hibernians 2-0 to climb at the top of the standings.
Hibernians had the bulk of the clean openings. They had no fewer than three efforts, a shot of which glanced off the post and indeed with more steadiness in their finishing they could have dealt the killer blow on their opponents.
Balzan flew out of the blocks, testing the resilience of Hibernians’ rock-solid defence with a series of early raids.
In the 20th minute, Lydon Micallef, put through by Abdelkarim Nafti went close with a diagonal shot during Balzan’s opening dominant spell but Hibernians weathered the early storm.
Then Bjorn Kristensen had to go off for treatment to a head wound after a collision with an opponent and returned heavily bandaged, only to leave the pitch few moments later, substituted by Juan Manuel Varela. At this point, Hibernians was forced to tweak their formation with the Argentine deployed as a lone striker and Jurgen Degarbriele playing behind him.
Just before the break, Alfred Effiong bore down on the right flank before playing in Bojan Kaljevic but the Balzan striker was anticipated by Rodolfo Soares.
Hibernians plucked up the courage and a lightning burst by Renan Telles Pimenta should have produced the lead. The nippy winger embarked on a mazy run through the middle before unleashing an unstoppable swerving shot which crashed against the angle of post and crossbar before Joseph Mbong laid the rebound at the far post where Juan Manuel Varela stood unmarked but the latter dragged his effort incredibly wide.
The fire and brimstone of Hibernians in the second half was in stark contrast with Balzan’s dull and slow movement on the ball. Most of the pressure was now on Balzan’s fort. In the 64th minute, Hibernians would have opened the score, were it not for Ivan Janjusevic who touched Juan Manuel Varela’s looping header over the bar.
On the other side, Alfred Effiong was thwarted by a timely tackle from Rodolfo Soares when the he was about to pull the trigger. Goalkeeper Rudy Briffa blocked on the generous Paul Fenech but generally Balzan hardly looked likely to break the deadlock.
Elkin Serrano almost committed an own goal, ten minutes from time, when his clearance from Jurgen Degarbiele’s header finished just wide much to the relief of Ivan Janjusevic who remained stranded.
Balzan battled to stay in touch until the 84th minute when they were presented with a sting in the tail in the shape of a penalty. Clayton Failla floored Bojan Kaljevic charging down the box. BOJAN KALJEVIC picked himself up, showing ice-cold composure to send Rudy Briffa the wrong way.
At death, ALFRED EFFIONG put undeserved gloss to Balzan’s win, profiting from Hibernians flat-out approach to sweep past the onrushing Rudy Briffa.
BALZAN : Ivan Janusevic, Bojan Kaljevic, Bruno Giglio de Oliviera, Steve Bezzina, Lydon Micallef, (70’ Matteo Piciollo), Paul Fenech, Alfred Effiong, Justin Grioli, Abdel Karim Nafti (82’ Dylan Grima), Elkin Orlando Serrano Valero, Terrence Agius (89’ Samir Arab).
HIBERNIANS : Rudy Briffa, Rodolfo Suarez, Marcelo Dias, Jackson da Lima Siqueira, Bjorn Kristensen (44’ Juan Manuel Varea), Clayton Failla, Renan Pimenta Telles, Johann Bezzina, Joseph Mbong (59’ Andrew Cohen), Jurgen Degabriele, Andrei Agius.
Referee: Philip Farrugia