Riba’s defensive posture concedes five leaving Gibraltar’s survival in League C up to a relegation play-off
Gibraltar’s survival in League C of the Nations League will now be dependent on the relegation play-off after the completion of group matches after a defensive looking side conceded five goals to closest group rivals Bulgaria.
Gibraltar who had drawn against Bulgaria in their last meeting, although responding well after going behind to a first goal, once again produced a defensive posture which allowed their opponents to come at them with little offensive options available to respond with.
Gibraltar faced a Bulgaria team who were just two points above them in the group table and after a string of bad results had changed their head coach and notably their squad players. The changes to the home side highlighting how the Bulgaria side they faced was far from the side they had drawn against at the Victoria Stadium.
Gibraltar for its part, with a side which remained mainly the same went into the match with a defensive team with little offensive options. Notably they also had seven players from their first eleven needing to be careful with bookings as they risked missing their final Nations League match if booked.
Gibraltar once again were missing Tjay De Barr who was still nursing an injury. With Ribas also keeping Valarino on the bench.
With little practice on a grass pitch and facing a rugged surface along with little competitive football since the end the season, Gibraltar faced a tough evening although Bulgarias fall from grace had laid some optimism for Gibraltar’s prospects.
Bulgaria however, had an added incentive as their recent performances had seemed to have also impacted on the attendance as their own supporters showed their disappointment at their recent performances.
Gibraltar made their first offensive surge within the first two minutes. Casciaro floating the ball across the penalty area although there was nobody there to meet his cross.
The ball ended in up I’m thrown in for Gibraltar as Britto collected at the far end of the box. This allowed Wiseman to send the ball dangerously into the penalty area although Bulgaria were up to their first test and cleared with some ease.
Defence went into attack for Bulgaria who took the game into Gibraltar’s half immediately as the new look line up set out to change perceptions on their performances.
Gibraltar soon settled into what has now become a much criticised defensive posture with a back five line and three directly in front to create a wall for Bulgaria to try and get past.
Bulgaria looked set to look for a victory, which they would come away with, whilst Gibraltar looked at making life difficult for them and far from looking at trying for a win.
The first attempt at goal did not come until the tenth minute with a wild shot well over the bar by Radoslav who had found himself unmarked behind the defence. Gibraltar’s early defensive posture although making it difficult for the hosts seemed to provide for Bulgaria to eventually find their way to goal.
Coleing was to find himself in no-man’s land moments after when he came out for a long ball but found the bounce going away from him on the rugged pitch and a wild clearance luckily provided enough time for him to get back into position to collect the subsequent return ball into his goal mouth.
The lone figure of Lee Casciaro up front proved somewhat of an uncomfortable presence as he chased for long balls forward forcing Bulgaria to keep at least two defenders back as they dominated possession. However, it was far from any attempt to test Bulgaria’s defence. Gibraltar instead playing a game of patience and looking as at waiting for their chance for a quick counter, instead of trying to advance their lines further. Whilst defensively Gibraltar’s stance worked at first frustrating Bulgaria it provided for little to no opportunities upfront.
Bulgaria’s second attempt at goal had to wait until the 16th minute with another wild shot over the bar.
Coleing was forced to make a save from header by Stefanov after Chipolina had been beaten to the jump on the 18th minute. Coleing making it look as a comfortable catch. Bulgaria though showing signs of getting closer to goal as they started to increase the pressure on Gibraltar inside the penalty area. Stefanov claimed for a corner just minutes later after he saw another shot deflected over the bar. The official ignoring his call as the ball looked as if it had last touched one of Bulgaria’s own players.
The pressure was to pay off for Bulgaria as Antov rose above Wiseman during a corner play on the 22nd minute to glance the ball to the far post away from Coleing’s reach for Bulgaria’s opener.
Gibraltar surprised, and were to raise questions over the reasons behind keeping to a defensive posture as they responded by trying to take the game to Bulgaria immediately.
Gibraltar showing that they could inflict damage on Bulgaria when going forward at the first opportunity of doing so.
Within moments from conceding a Walker freekick delivered a great ball behind Bulgaria’s defence which was laid in front of goal to be cleared on the line for a corner.
Roy Chipolina was to bring the game level as he beat Bulgaria’s defence to the ball after the subsequent Walker corner was flicked by Britto from the front post. Chipolina keeping his position in front of goal to meet the ball with a resounding header that gave Naumov no chance. Gibraltar levelling just minutes after Bulgaria had taken the lead. This also the first offensive move from Gibraltar since the first minutes of the match.
Gibraltar’s goal, however, saw the team return immediately into a defensive posture once again.
Coleing was to have a bit of a scare when on the half hour a deflection saw him struggle to get to grips with a low shot, luckily the final bounce falling favourably for him to gather.
Bulgaria tried to put some urgency into their game as they looked to add pressure upon Gibraltar. However, it was Walker who had an attempt at goal at the other end with a long distance punt, although this time his shot going wild away from goal.
Bulgaria once again retook the lead on the 35th minute when Despodov was allowed space inside the penalty area as Gibraltar’s defence failed to prevent a surge into the area.
Gibraltar once again responded by trying to take the game into Bulgaria’s half although this time finding Bulgaria closing down well as seeing the hosts set forward to try add further pressure on Gibraltar.
Casciaro was lucky not to end up with a booking, which would have seen him miss the next match, after an unnecessary foul halfway up Gibraltar’s half and far from goal. Bulgaria getting a chance to float the ball dangerously into the area, which was met well by Coleing with a punch.
Gibraltar played dangerously on the backfoot as Bulgaria sought to extend their lead before the half-time whistle. Defending deep inside their area and struggling to keep possession.
Torrilla was to give away a freekick In a dangerous place just outside to the left of the penalty area which was to force Coleing into a save as the shot looked to creep to the far post.
Gibraltar managed to weather the storm and maintained themselves with a fighting chance as they went into the half-time break narrowly behind.
Gibraltar was to start the second half with some optimism as Casciaro stole to put some pressure on Bulgaria. However, just as soon they lost possession and it was Gibraltar’s goal that was placed under pressure. First with Despodov seeing a shot deflected to corner, and next Gibraltar facing a second corner with less than five minutes of the second half played.
Kirilov was to lift the pressure off Bulgaria’s shoulders as he latched onto a rebound to send a thundering drive to the top of the net for the 3-1 on the 51st minute after Histrov had ploughed his way to the byline to send the ball into the goal mouth.
Just three minutes later Gibraltar’s hopes came crumbling down as Stefanov met well Despodov’s cross with a header and reacted quickest to have a second attempt as his first header was blocked by Coleing. Gibraltar’s defence was slow in reacting to clear the rebound allowing Stefanov with a second header just off the post and making it 4-1.
It was Bulgaria who was to start making changes to their team on the hour mark. Ribas was not to wait too long making three changes as the pace of the game flattened and tired legs were seen among Gibraltar players.
Surprisingly the changes saw just one offensive change with Lee Casciaro making way for Reece Styche. The other changes seeing Torrilla who was playing in midfield replaced by Sergeant, a defender, and Annesley replaced by Ethan Jolley.
Gibraltar lived dangerously as miscommunication between club mates Coleing and Lope saw the latter attempt a clearance sending the ball over Coleing as the latter came away from his line. The ball luckily cleared away from danger but leaving Gibraltar’s goal momentarily exposed as Bulgaria piled the pressure in the final third of the field.
With few real offensive options and a mainly defensive looking team on the field Gibraltar were being penned inside their half with Reece Styche as the lone figure upfront. Frustrations also seen emerging at times as the link up between midfield and the frontline looked inexistent.
Ribas was to make another change on the 71st minute as Walker gave way for youngster Nicholas Pozo to get another cap under his belt. The young player, playing in Spain this season, getting a second chance to get competitive international experience with his second appearance in the Nations League for Gibraltar.
Pozo’s first intervention saw him cleverly earn Gibraltar a set piece chance as he forced a foul up the field inside Bulgaria’s half. Bulgaria was to clear but only as far as providing a throw in which saw Wiseman put their defence under pressure with his long throw. The hosts, however, closing down well and preventing Gibraltar from any chance at goal.
Fully in control of the game Bulgaria added a fifth on the 80th minute as Petkov was put through by a well timed through ball down the left, leaving the Bulgarian to drive the ball past Coleing on the first touch.
Ribas was to make another change with eight minutes left introducing Joseph Chipolina, another defender, on for Britto. Gibraltar defended deep with a goal mouth scramble on the final minute of the official 90 minutes preventing a sixth for Bulgaria.
Gibraltar now face a final Nations League group match against Georgia with no prospect of lifting themselves from the bottom of the table and facing the prospect of a play-off against one of the other three bottom of the group table teams in League C if they are to maintain themselves in League C for the next edition.
Gibraltar’s defensive tactics from early in the match in what was a crucial Nations League group match and facing survival was highly criticised once again as Gibraltar faced another heavy defeat. Gibraltar finishing with eight defenders and with hardly any goal attempts registered in the 90 minutes.
Gibraltar now face a Georgia side on Monday who will be looking to secure their unbeaten run after securing top of the table after their victory against North Macedonia.