Naxxar beat Zejtun in top of the table clash
Naxxar kept marching on beating Zejtun Corinthians by the odd goal in five in a top of the table clash, for their fifth successive victory whilst inflicting the first defeat on the Blues. It was, as expected, a great match between two of the best sides in this group. The expectations were high a very good crowd was present too. Zejtun had a great start hitting the post inside the first minute with a Claudio Murici header and taking an eleventh minute lead with a Jean Carlos header. But after these initial moves, Zejtun were tamed by the Lions who grew in composure and almost equalised on 35 minutes when Nigel Bugeja almost committed an own goal in an attempt to clear with the goal finishing against the crossbar. On the resumption Naxxar turned the tide in their favour with Jurgen Debono’s equaliser and with Gilberto Carrara’s trike on 58 minutes. Zejtun tried to get back in the game but were dealt a severe blow on 84 minutes when ex-Kercem Ajax substitute Samuel Saldanha scored a great goal for Naxxar. On 89 minutes, Renan Bigode headed home for Zejtun and the six minutes of added time were a Zejtun siege on the Naxxar fort. The Lions resisted thanks mainly to great save from Omar Borg on 95 minutes.
Melita registered their second successive victory beating Lija by the odd goal in three, climbing to a shared second spot in the ranking, with the same level of points then Zejtun. It was a deserved victory for Melita in a keenly contested match, as the Amateurs were the better team on the field of play. Much more was expected from Lija who had high spirits after their crushing victory over Vittoriosa in their last outing, but they only piled pressure in flashes in the second half, when they had to recover a two-goal deficit. Melita took the lead just before the break, through Camilo Navarro, who scored from an acute angle. Twelve minutes into the second half Melita won a penalty after a foul by Lija goalkeeper Luke Bonnici, and from the penalty spot Noel Omondi fired home. Lija made several attacks but risked a lot at the back with Melita twice hitting the post. Deep in stoppage time Lija pulled one back when Pedrinho scored direct from a corner kick.
On Friday night, Vittoriosa recovered from the drubbing suffered against Lija, beating San Gwann 2-1 in an interesting match. For San Gwann this was the second consecutive defeat, a defeat which is surely a severe blow in their ambitions to from part of the top teams in this group. Vincent Carbonaro’s team had a very good start forging ahead after only two minutes play when Isaac Galea pounced on a short defensive clearance to hammer the ball home. San Gwann’s reaction was immediate and effective as six minutes later, the score was level again when Sjaak Kuyper passed towards Andrea Zammit who had his first effort blocked but the young striker made no mistake from the rebound. The second half was an open contest and a delight to watch with both sides in search for the winner, and this was obtained by Vittoriosa twelve minutes from time when substitute Ayrton Micallef, in his first match of the season, slotted past the goalkeeper from close range.
Rabat Ajax obtained their first win of the season, thanks to a 2-1 win over Mqabba in a rather balanced match. All goals, and most of the action, arrived in the first half and based on the first half, Rabat deserved their win. On 25 minutes, the referee in charge awarded a penalty to Rabat when Manuel Bustos was fouled just inside the box. However, Mqabba goalkeeper Craig Abdilla brilliantly saved Larens Vella’s spotkick. Nine minutes later however, Petar Kanzurov scored the opener for the Magpies after a wonderful through pass by Aidan Azzopardi. In the 40th minute, it was now Mqabba’s turn to be awarded a penalty when Luka Mijic was brought down irregularly in the box, with captain Ryan Spiteri making no mistake to bring his team next to Rabat. On the stroke of half-time, Azzopardi headed Rabat in front after an inch perfect cross from the left from Bustos. After the tea break, Mqabba surged ahead to score the equaliser, with Ronald Makalysten coming closest with a header which just missed target. Substitute Nicolai Attard could have added Rabat’s third late in the match but failed to find the net with only Abdilla to beat.
The match Pembroke Athleta against Marsaxlokk had to be postponed. Therefore, the table shows quite an imbalance looking at number of matches played as Naxxar lead the way with the maximum 15 points followed by Zejtun and San Gwann, on ten points, who have all played 5 matches. Number four is Pembroke, who have however gathered a maximum number of points from the three matches they played. St George’s, who had a ‘bye’ for matchday 5, are the only team without any points in this group.
Tarxien moved to the top of group B after a hard-earned victory over Luqa St Andrew’s. It was a difficult test for Tarxien who were however worthy winners, registering their second victory of the season as they remain unbeaten. The team of Steve D’Amato opened the score on 16 minutes with a Ricardinho drive, following a Saturday Nanapere good run, while the NIgerian was unlucky four minutes later when his scorcher slammed against the crossbar. Luqa exerted pressure in the second half and were unlucky on the hour when young Mario Jude Dominicius’ shot hit the post. Tarxien sealed the issue three minutes from time when Wellington passed towards Ricardinho who was denied by Luqa goalkeeper Pablo Villar Flores but from the rebound, Daneel Abela drilled the ball home, the first official goal in senior football for the 21-year-old.
A late goal by veteran Ryan Darmanin gave Marsa a valuable victory over Qrendi in a rather scrappy match. The victory, the second consecutive one for Marsa, puts the Redblues on the right track, obtaining a second place in the table now. However, their overall performance left much to be desired and with some luck Qrendi could have also snatched an equaliser. Marsa had a better start and had two good scoring opportunities inside the opening ten minutes, but then the match was balanced with practically no shots at goal. The second half did not change much with play mainly in midfield till the 77 th minute when Darmanin broke the deadlock. Qrendi’s reaction was chaotic and Marsa held on to their precious and slender lead. On 90 minutes, Qrendi were reduced to ten men when Camilo del Castillo Escobar was sent off for retaliation.
Neighbours St Andrews and Swieqi United produced a spectacular derby which produced four goals, two red cards, shots against the woodwork and some spectacular saves from the goalkeepers. The final result was surely the fairest as no team deserved to lose this intense match, which was one of the best so far in this Challenge League season. Swieqi had a better start and Johan Castano’s header forced Miguel Montfort to save with the help of the upright. On eleven minutes, Castano beat the offside trap and made no mistake this time, all alone in front of Montfort. Sixty seconds later the Saints were unlucky when a Kei Sano shot hit the upright. On the half hour, Swieqi goalkeeper Jean-Claude Debattista was outstanding denying Dale Camilleri. Ten minutes into the second half, St Andrews were awarded a penalty when Josuael Azzopardi handled the ball and also received a second booking. Veteran Joseph Farrugia made no mistake from the penalty spot, but ironically after suffering this goal and although with ten players Swieqi took the upper hand. Against the run of play, St. Andrews took the lead on 79 minutes with their best player Sano hitting low past Debattista. On 90 minutes the Saints were also reduced to ten men with young substitute Ross McParland received a yellow and a second yellow in the space of barely a minute. Swieqi soon took full advantage to salvage a point thanks to a great strike from substitute Roderick Taliana.
Zebbug Rangers registered their second successive victory, easily beating Senglea Athletic 3-0 in a one-sided affair. Shalon Diacono scored a great goal after only four minutes play and after this opener, Senglea never settled down. Coach Brian Spiteri’s team continued to dictate matters but failed to score a deserved second goal. In their rare attacks Senglea hit the post through Andrew Tenorio with the same player doing a spectacular overhead kick, but the ball missed the target. On the resumption, winger Travis Bartolo missed a sitter in front of goal. Senglea tried to get the equaliser but were never dangerous. Zebbug finally sealed the issue on 76 minutes when Shalon Diacon scored another well taken goal after rounding the goalkeeper. Ten minutes from time Perez Jimenez scored Zebbug’s third goal after an impressive run.
On Monday night, the match Pieta’ Hotspurs against Mgarr United has to be abandoned at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch at the Victor Tedesco Stadium. The match will be resumed on a later date in the season, from the second half onwards. This means that, with nine points, Tarxien are now the leaders in Group B, followed by Marsa and Swieqi on eight points, with the former having a game in hand. Fgura, who had a ‘bye’ , are on seven points, equal with Zebbug and Pieta'.
Images copyright by Stephen Gatt