A 95th minute penalty scored by Liam Walker ensured Europa took all three points in a 1-0 victory over Lions last night.
Photo (C) David Roberts
The match, which saw two of the then-unbeaten teams this season go head-to-head, saw Lions manager Albert Ferri once again get his team to defend admirably against what was the best attacking side last season. A back six, which even adapted to a back seven when needed, proved not for the first time that they will be making life incredibly difficult for the top three this season.
For Lions, there was a start for Craig Bossano-Anes, after Jared Buhagiar missed out, while for Europa, Evan De Haro was on the bench after his summer move from Algeciras Cantera.
Lions fashioned the first chance in the first minute – German Cortes spotted Christian Lopez off his line and tried to lob him from 45 yards, but it went wide of the mark. From that point, Europa went out to try and break down the ‘orange wall’ so to speak, but found chances few and far between. They weren’t helped by Marco Rosa pulling up injured after 20 minutes, and not long after that Lions had a chance of their own – a free kick going just over the bar from distance.
A recurring theme of the game, as it would turn out at the end, was Lions dissatisfaction with the decision-making of referee Jason Barcelo, starting with him missing an accidental head injury to Cortes – one of their technical team would be booked for dissent after that.
At the half-time break, both teams made subs – Bossano-Anes came off for Kaylan Rumbo, and Mikey Yome came off for Dylan Borge, who was looking to keep up his scoring form. The second half largely went to the same pattern as the first – Europa attacking but Lions shutting them out comprehensively. Rafael Escobar’s team started resorting to long-distance efforts as their frustrations grew – they knew after Lincoln’s 0-0 draw with Boca last weekend, they could not afford to waste the two point advantage given to them.
As the game went on, and after Europa had a goal disallowed, tempers started to fray on the Lions side, mainly off the pitch though – club President Alex Grech was the unlikely recipient of a yellow card as the minutes ticked down. Lions did have a chance to potentially nick a win, as Kadrian Verjaque’s effort from 25 yards went narrowly over the bar, but it would be at the end that the moment of controversy happened.
As Europa were piling on the pressure trying to get a winner, what looked like a soft penalty was awarded by Barcelo, much to Lions clear frustration. Walker stepped up and dispatched the penalty down the middle, sparking celebrations and a bit of handbags, which ended up seeing another member of Lions bench booked – in the end they had as many non-players booked as players.
Despite the two minutes wasted from the penalty, there was to be no time added to the six given, which Lions at the time felt was too generous to their opponents, in order for them to launch one final attack – the final whistle went and Europa, for the time being at least, go to the top of the league. Lions tasted defeat for the first time this season, but will once again take heart from their incredibly disciplined performance against one of Gib’s so-called ‘Top 3’.
Lions: Valades; Jimenez, Tovar, Bosio, Breakspear, Cintas, Caravaca (Pomares, 70), Bossano-Anes (Rumbo, 45), Verjaque, Cortes (Ruiz, 67), Hastings
Unused Subs: Victor, Morales, Thorne, Grech
Europa: Lopez; Jolley, Ayew (Gallardo, 60), Juampe, Walker, Yome (Borge, 45), Olivero, Aviles, Rosa (Poku, 24), Polaco, Juanlu (Quillo, 75)
Unused Subs: Romero, Alvarez, De Haro
Yellow Cards: Bosio, Breakspear, Cintas; Walker, Quillo, Poku
Red Cards: None