Ħamrun Spartans bounced back from their shock defeat to Żebbug Rangers to beat Sta Lucia 2-0 on Sunday at the Centenary Stadium.
The Premier League frontrunners now hold a seven-point lead over closest rivals Hibernians, while the Saints languishing in the penultimate spot of the standings after a third consecutive loss, right above Pieta Hotspurs who lost to Birkirkara on Sunday.
Spartans coach Branko Nisevic made two defensive changes to his starting 11 as Emerson Marcelina and Ognjen Bjelicic started ahead of the injured Steve Borg and Ryan Camenzuli, who started on the bench.
Enzo Potenzo’s Sta Lucia, themselves coming from a loss to Valletta in the previous matchday, were largely the same bar the replacement of Jamie Carbone with Diego Pacheco.
A pair of freekick on either side proved to be the most dangerous efforts in the opening quarter of an hour. However, on 26 minutes, Hamrun had their best chance to go ahead from the spot but heroics from Sta Lucia goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona kept the score unopened with a diving save.
A counterattack led the ball to Luke Montebello who was pushed inside the area, referee Trustin Farrugia Cann immediately pointing to the spot. However, Calleja Cremona was alert to dive the right way and stop Montebello’s ensuing penalty.
On 37 minutes, Calleja Cremona was once again the difference as a fiery effort from Jonny was parried away into a corner.
At the other end, Meghon Valpoort lost his footing inside the area five minutes away from the break after a swift team play into the Hamrun half. He then fired slightly wide seconds later as Sta Lucia began to show signs of attack.
Two minutes later, Valpoort was again the target but Spartans goalkeeper Henry Bonello managed to stop the attack before the dutchman was adjudged offside either way.
Ħamrun had one last chance at goal before the break with another Montebello effort but the ball was easily collected by Calleja Cremona.
After the change of ends, the Sta Lucia goalkeeper was put to work yet again as he blocked a goalmouth shot from Montebello in the opening five minutes before Valpoort’s header from an immediate counterattack ended up in Bonello’s clutches.
By the hour, the threat from Ħamrun was in full escalation and they made their pressure count with a goal from Elvis Mashike who had the easiest of tasks to score from right in front of goal after the ball somehow got through a crowded Sta Lucia area.
On 66 minutes, Elvis was close to doubling for Ħamrun after a swift through-ball from Jonny but his shot finished well over.
Ħamrun’s Dodo made his presence count on 70 minutes after having been brought on just eight minutes before when he surprised Calleja Cremona with a shot from distance that flew into the top corner.
With their win all but confirmed, Hamrun held onto their two-goal margin to secure the three points by the final whistle.
ĦAMRUN SPARTANS 2
STA LUCIA 0
ĦAMRUN SPARTANS H. Bonello-6, M. Guillaumier-6.5, L. Montebello-6 (62 Dodo), E. Mashike-6.5 (84 L. Borg), R. Prsa-6.5 (62 R. Camenzuli), R. Callegari-5, E. Bruno-6, O. Bjelicic-6.5, J. Corbolan-6, Jonny-6.5 (70 Vinicius), E. Marcelina-6.
STA LUCIA M. Calleja Cremona-7.5, L. Fonseca-6, M. Johnson-5.5 (81 J. Zvi), N. Pulis-6 (81 E. Camilleri), R. Bairam-6, M. Valpport-6.5, D. Pacheco-5.5 (74 J. Tanti), D. Xuereb-6.5, J. Pisani-6, F. Farias-6 (74 J. Carbone), M. Alba-5.5 (60 J. Zerafa).
Referee Trustin Farrugia Cann
Yellow card Johnson
BOV Player of the match Matthew Calleja Cremona (Sta Lucia)