Gharghur new Group A leaders, Mtarfa upset Zabbar
Gharghur are the new league leaders in Group A of the 2021/22 Amateur League, beating bottom side Ghaxaq 2-0. The difference was made in the second half as before the break, the performance of the team of Kevin Borg-Degiorgio left much to be desired. Before Gharghur’s opening goal, Ryan Gatt missed three clear opportunities for Ghaxaq. On 18 minutes, Gatt was sent through but failed to find the net from an ideal position with only Gharghur goalkeeper Andrew Zammit to beat. Five minutes later, the unmarked Gatt had another great opportunity, but the hard-working striker volleyed the ball straight into the arms of Zammit from close range. Just after the half hour, Gatt was sent through once more, but his lob completely missed target. On 37 minutes however, Gharghur scored with their first real opportunity when debutant Jayden Aquilina (ex-Mgarr United) was released on the edge of the box, beating Ghaxaq goalkeeper Christian Schembri with clinic grounder. After the break, Ghaxaq continued to work hard, which resulted into more ball possession but not into goalscoring opportunities as the Gharghur centre-backs, assisted by the resolute David Zammit in front of their defence, never gave in. Substitute Mark Cutajar had a chance to double the score for Gharghur on 71 minutes but Schembri saved with his feet, while barely a minute later another substitute, Warren Zerafa, missed a sitter from close-range in front of an empty goal. However, Zerafa made up for this miss eight minutes later, releasing a thunderbolt from the edge of the box which completely beat Schembri. A hard-earned win for an unbeaten Gharghur side, who continue to surprise and foe this season.
Kalkara lost two important points to a stubborn Msida side, who played a strong second half to win a much-deserved point. It was indeed a game of two halves as before the break, Kalkara dominated the encounter. After the break, Msida were a transformed side, showing great character. The draw was a fair result looking at the balanced number of chances both teams created throughout the match. Msida goalkeeper Justin Tonna was called into action for the first time on nine minutes, blocking a grounder of Xghajra wing back Nathan Attard. On 37 minutes, a close-range effort from Fabrice Hounkpe was blocked by Kalkara goalkeeper Brandon Debono, for sure Msida's best goalscoring opportunity in the first half. Barely a minute later however, the referee awarded a penalty for Kalkara after a handsball incident in the Msida box. Lanky Kalkara striker Jean-Claud Cesare kept his cool and calmly converted the spot kick. The Reds saw definitely more of the ball in the second half. Initially, opportunities by Mark Camilleri, Agatino Sicali and Hounkpe did not have the desired effect. But Msida continued to surge forward and were awarded a penalty themselves on 65 minutes. Kalkara’s Andriy Pisani brought down Abdullahi Busari in the box, who had just entered the pitch a minute before. The Nigerian took the penalty himself and made no mistake to bring Msida next to Kalkara. On 78 minutes, substitute Leeroy Bonett was sent through but his effort missed target. On 83 minutes, Busari’s shot from the edge of the box sailed inches over the crossbar and barely a minute later, Vella was sent through but his grounder missed target. The save of the day was for Tonna with four minutes left on the clock, turning an attempt from Jordan Vella into a corner in style.
The early Sunday kick-off match between third-placed Birzebbuga St Peter’s and Ta’ Xbiex was a slow encounter, which never got going. Birzebbuga were the better team, but after their first goal somehow slowed down, keeping a Ta’ Xbiex team into the match until late in the game. Birzebbuga paraded new signing Kenneth Ekezie as their centre-forward, who started the season with Ghaxaq. On 14 minutes, Ekezie’s header hit the post after an accurate Sunday Ubuwere cross from the right wing. From the resultant corner action, Birzebbuga captain Christopher Cutajar brought the best out of Ta’ Xbiex goalkeeper Cliff Aquilina, who tipped his close-range effort over the crossbar. On 27 minutes, the Blues went 1-0 up when Ubuwere’s cross created havoc in the Ta’ Xbiex defence and Shaun Kind, in an attempt to clear the ball, unluckily kicked the leather behind Aquilina, a classic own goal. Ta’ Xbiex best goalscoring opportunity arrived in the 37th minute, when Jurgen Sciriha was left unmarked in the box but his header missed target. Four minutes later, the St Peter’s were awarded a penalty after Aquilina fouled Jean-Claude Cassar in the box. However, Aquilina blocked Ubuwere’s weak attempt from the penalty spot to keep his team in the match. In the second half much of the same with Birzebbuga attacking, but too slow, with the solid Ta’Xbiex rear-guard clearing practically everything which came their way. However, on 68 minutes, Yessous Camilleri added Birzebugga’s second with a backward header, a soft ball which slipped through Aquilina’s hands. Four minutes later, a Christoper Cutajar header hit the woodwork from a corner action. On 78 minutes, it was game over when substitute Joshua Farrugia added Birzebbuga’s third, finishing off a fine move and cross from Ubuwere.
Like Gharghur, Attard maintained their unbeaten run, coming from behind with a fine 4-1 win against Xghajra Tornados. Attard striker Nicholas Schembri played a great game, being involved in all of the goals, apart from scoring one himself. Early in the match, Schembri had a few opportunities to open the account for Attard, but on 36 minutes, Xghajra took a shock lead. The Attard defence failed to clear the ball from a Xghajra free-kick and in came Owen Anyaso who drilled the ball home from close range. After the break, Attard took their chances well, scoring four without reply. Lydon Cuschieri scored the equaliser on 52 minutes, when he was sent through by Schembri on the left, finishing off with his left foot. Attard, clearly the better side throughout the match, took the lead on 73 minutes when Schembri crossed towards substitute Adrian Sammut, finishing into a practically empty net. On 84 minutes, Attard scored their third goal thanks to a powerful top corner freekick. Two minutes from full-time, Attard made sure of the win when Schembri, who was once again involved in the goal, provided an assist to Nigel Spiteri, beating the Xghajra goalkeeper with a lovely chip. Attard are now fourth in the ranking, staging a remarkable run through the rankings, knowing they started the season with a -9-point handicap.
Dingli Swallows, after recording two hard-earned draws against Msida and Xghajra, recorded their third consecutive positive league result, beating a poor Siggiewi side, who do not seem to get things going this season. It was the first win for the team of Giuseppe Cristaldi this season, and a deserved one. The Swallows received a setback on 37 minutes when winger Giuseppe Versace was sent for an early shower, receiving two cautions within barely a minute. However, with ten players, Dingli forged ahead. On the stroke of half-time, a wonderful Matthew Borg free-kick had the better of Siggiewi goalkeeper Noel Micallef, sending his team with a 1-0 advantage into the dressing rooms. Siggiewi did all it could to score an equaliser in the second half, but the solid Dingli defence stood firm. Numerical equality was restored on 73 minutes, when experienced Siggiewi defender Rene Duca was sent-off with a straight red after an off-the-ball incident. Towards the end, Dingli had no problems to defend their slender lead and can now carefully look up to win perhaps a Play-Off spot at the end of the competition.
Marsaskala maintained their perfect record with five wins out of five matches, thanks to a hard-earned win over a young Mellieha side. It was however the match of Mellieha goalkeeper James Abela who, not for the first time this season, kept his side into the match with countless brilliant saves, including a penalty. Marsaskala dominated the first half and scored the decisive goal after just five minutes by veteran Joseph Chetcuti, rounding off with a beautiful lob after a through pass by Dylan Zarb. On 26 minutes, Abela blocked an effort by Chetcuti from close-range, while seven minutes later, Abela came to the rescue again in an almost identical situation, turning Chetcuti’s effort into a corner. On the stroke of half-time, Marsaskala claimed a penalty when, again, Chetcuti was allegedly brought down in the box, but the referee waved to play on. Mellieha saw more of the ball after the break, but without creating any clear goalscoring opportunities. With fifteen minutes on the clock left, Marsaskala were awarded a penalty after a handsball incident in the Mellieha box. However, Abela crowned his man of the match performance by saving Adrian Carabott’s spotkick with an excellent dive into the right corner. In the attack that followed, Luke Mallia brought the best out of Marsaskala goalkeeper Daniel Attard, who tipped the ball with his fingers over the crossbar after a wonderful 20-meters distance lob, for sure Mellieha’s best chance of the afternoon. Abela once more denied Marsaskala a second goal on 80 minutes, blocking a close-range effort from Carabott. Five minutes later, Chetcuti marred his positive performance by being sent-off for dissent, his second yellow card of the afternoon.
Second placed Zurrieq lost an important two points against a determined Qormi side, who fully deserved their point last Sunday at the Luxol Stadium. George Magri’s team took an early 19th minute lead, thanks to veteran striker Timmy Thomas, knocking in his 280th career goal. Instead of doubling their lead, Zurrieq somehow chose the consolidation path, also thanks to a young stubborn Qormi side who gave their more quoted opponents a good match. Deep into the second half, Gilmour Sammut scored a deserved equaliser for the yellows, who got reduced to ten player two minutes after with Leon Theuma receiving his second caution of the afternoon for stopping a promising attack. This resulted into a siege towards the Qormi fort by Zurrieq, who however failed to score he winner and, much to their frustration, also were also reduced to ten when, in stoppage time, defender Adrian Caruana was sent off, also with a second yellow card.
The biggest surprise of Match Day 6 was undoubtedly the win of Mtarfa against Zabbar St Patrick by the odd goal in five, after an action packed but tensed match, which produced three red cards. Zabbar defended high throughout the match and were caught on the wrong foot several times, paving the way for Mtarfa to win a very important three points. It was Zabbar who took an early eight-minute lead early when Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza’s close range effort slipped through the goalkeeper’s hands. Barely a minute later, Zabbar had the chance to double their lead but Kyle Tanti’s shot was saved this time by Mtarfa goalkeeper Clive Caruana. In the 21st minute of the game, Mtarfa equalised thanks to Venezuelan livewire Nestor Canas, who scored from near the penalty spot into the bottom right corner, well assisted by Dylan Mifsud. Mtarfa took a surprise lead with a goal on 34 minutes. Jean Paul Formosa controlled the ball from a long pass on the half way line, profiting from a practically free path towards goal before finishing clinically. Eight minutes into the second half Zabbar managed to regain parity after a penalty, coolly converted by veteran Mifsud Triganza. In the event leading to the penalty Mtarfa were reduced to ten as Neil Caruana received a second yellow card. Although a man down, Mtarfa did not hold back and, much to their credit, chose to attack, scoring the winner on 65 minutes. Canas beat his marker on the left wing, passing towards Formosa who beat Zabbar goalkeeper Franklin Vella with an angled shot. In the 74th minute Zabbar also had a player sent off with a straight red card with defender Francesco Gusman being involved in an off-the-ball incident. The remaining time of the game was deprived of good football which eventually resulted in another sending-off deep into stoppage time, this time for Mtarfa’s Diego Agius for dissent. Anyhow, an important win for Mtarfa, who keep their Play-Off aspirations on track.
Mdina Knights recorded their third win on the throt, beating Kirkop United by a late solitary goal. It was not the first time this season that Kirkop held the initiative throughout the match but left the pitch empty handed. The Knights took their chances well and scored the winner on 76 minutes when Lazar Doric touched the ball last in a scrimmage for the ball in the box of Kirkop goalkeeper Matthew Xerxen. The Knights slowly find their feet after four consecutive defeats this season, three in the league and one in the Amateur Cup. With nine points from six games, they now occupy fifth place, enough at the end of this season for a Play-Off spot. Kirkop, with one point, remain the only team in this group without a win.
Images copyright Stephen Gatt