Pembroke puts pressure on Naxxar, interesting affair in Group B
Pembroke registered their third successive victory beating lowly St George’s with a goal in each half to consolidate their second place in the standings behind leaders Naxxar. They have now approached the Lions on a two points distance in the rankings. For the Saints it was another miserable afternoon. The Pioneers had a promising start and were unlucky too on fifteen minutes when Kouta Suemitsu’s effort from an acute angled hit the post. However, Pembroke found their feet after this lucky escape and dictated matters to take the lead on 38 minutes when James Brincat pounced on a hesitant St George’s defence to score a good goal from the edge of the area. Twelve minutes into the second half, Pembroke put their minds at rest with a second goal when Connor Zammit passed towards Weverton Gomes who rounded a defender before finishing in style. One sad note for Pembroke as they finished the match with ten players when substitute Jonathan Bajada was sent off for a nasty tackle on Jamaican defender Ricardo Martin.
Zejtun returned to winning ways beating Mqabba 4-2 in a match they completely dominated in the first half, and in a match that they almost threw away in the second half. In fact, Zejtun looked set for an easy victory after a 3-0 by the end of the first. The match did not start well for the Blues as they lost goalkeeper Dunstan Zarb on seven minutes and had to substituted by 16-year-old Isaac Abela. On 17 minutes, strong Brazilian striker Jean Carlos headed home from a corner action and five minutes later the same player scored a gem of a goal direct from a freekick. On 38 minutes Jean Carlos was on the mark again after an irresistible run to notch his hat trick, his tenth goal of the season already, leading the Top Scorer classification in the NCL. On the resumption, Jean Carlos was denied from a fourth goal by a great save by Mqabba goalkeeper Craig Abdilla and on 55 minutes Mqabba pulled one back with a Luka Mijic header. Mqabba pushed for more as Zejtun lost all their flair. On 72 minutes, Luka Mijic scored again with a rather soft header and Zejtun were now under pressure. However, with four minutes to go Zejtun settled the issue for good when Renan Bigode headed home the fourth goal.
Last Sunday, Melita deservingly defeated Vittoriosa 3-0 to remain on equal points with Zejtun Corinthians, albeit having played one match more than the Blues. The win for Melita was never in doubt, with the Stars having another disappointing outing. After a quiet opening half, it was the team of Saviour Debono-Grech who broke the deadlock in the second minute of added time. Chris Baker set-up the attack, getting Nigel Rizzo and Daniel Cutajar involved and it was the former who clinically defeated Edward Gatt, the Birgu custodian. The minutes after the break, Matteo Desira-Buttigieg converted a penalty, given for a foul on Rizzo. Four minutes from time, Rizzo sealed his man-of-the-match performance by scoring his second goal of the game to secure the win for the Amateurs.
San Gwann demolished Rabat Ajax, winning 7-2 to register their second win of the season. Young striker Andrea Zammit had a field day scoring four goals. The Magpies had big problems at the back with their defence at sixes and sevens whenever San Gwann pushed forward. To be fair, most Rabat players on the pitch came out of quarantine not such a long while ago, making it even more difficult for them to challenge their talented opponents, who once more fielded a very young side. On ten minutes Radojevic opened the goal feast with a powerful header that left debutant goalkeeper Damian Borg helpless. Five minutes later Andrea Zammit opened his account with a low drive from an acute angle and on 27 minutes, Zammit was on mark again with another low powerful drive but from a central position. At the start of the second half, Dutch import Sjaak Kuyper made it four and on 55 minutes Rabat pulled one back through Elmir Lekaj from a corner action. On 65 minutes, a Skender Loshi shot hit the crossbar but eight minutes later, the former Albanian U21 international was luckier when his header finished at the back of the net. Six minutes from time, Zammit beat a couple of defenders before driving the ball home to make it 6-1. There was more to come in the remaining minutes with Rabat winning a penalty, this was taken by Gaston Poncet but substitute goalkeeper Justin Spiteri blocked his shot, only for Wayne Borg to drive home the rebound. In stoppage time Andrea Zammit scored his fourth goal, arguably the best of the lot with a precise lob for a 7-2 final score.
On Saturday evening, Lija Athletic registered a very important win against Marsaxlokk in a spectacular clash which produced seven goals. Joe Galea’s team welcomed back midfielder Aiden Galea after 14 months of injury misery. It was only Lija’s second win of the season, which was received which huge relief, also knowing they played most of the second half with ten players after the dismissal of Pedrinho. The Brazilian played a good match and broke the deadlock after 14 minutes with a wonderful first timer, and the playmaker added his second on 27 minutes by converting a penalty. Marsaxlokk pulled one back in the half hour mark from a header by Argentinian Walter Serrano. Xuan Cappellino restored level three minutes later for his side but Lydon MIcallef put Lija ahead again just before the break. Twelve minutes into the second half, Lija received a huge blow when Pedrinho was sent off after receiving a second yellow card. Although with a player less, the Athletic showed great character by restoring their two-goal advantage in the 75th minute, courtesy of a Kurt Borg goal. In the remaining minutes, Marsaxlokk went all out attacking but only managed to score once, from a header by Cappellino, his second of the night. It was however too little too late for the Seasiders, who keep on showing highly inconsistent performances this season.
A Neverton goal after just 36 seconds last Monday night was enough for Pieta to beat Senglea and go on top of the standings. It was a match played in difficult, not to say impossible conditions, with the strong winds guiding the ball wherever it wanted. Both sides fought bravely in these conditions but the match never really sparked off and is very difficult to evaluate. Pieta started with the winds behind their backs and scored the winner after 36 seconds when Brazilian winger Neverton pounced on a still unsettled Senglea defensive error, firing a shot that with the help of the wind was impossible to save. Unfortunately, Neverton limped off fifteen minutes later and Pieta never really tested the Senglea custodian again. On the resumption Senglea tried to gain advantage from the wind factor and managed two great shots, both from Bradley Schembri, but in both cases, Reeves Cini made two stunning saves to preserve his side’s precious lead. As Zebbug Rangers did not play this weekend, Pieta’ are now alone on top of the table in Group B of the 2021/22 Challenge League.
Steve D’Amato’s Tarxien Rainbows moved second in the standings, beating Qrendi by odd goal in three. The Rainbows fully deserved this victory thanks to a brilliant first half performance in which Tarxien scored the goals that mattered. Apart from the goals scored, Tarxien forward Tiago Nonato was unlucky with two goal attempts, the first one hitting the crossbar and the second one the upright. Tarxien took the lead on four minutes when a Saturday Nanapere deflected shot deceived the Qrendi custodian who somehow managed to save, even though most probably when the ball had already crossed the goal line, with Ricardinho settling the doubts when he fired home. On 35 minutes, there was another woodwork situation for Tarxien when Matthew Tabone’s header hit the crossbar, but from the rebound Darren Falzon made no mistake. In the second half heavens broke loose with heavy almost torrential rain making it difficult to play football. Qrendi pushed to get back in the game but instead, Tarxien missed a couple of sitters in their breaks. A minute into stoppage time, substitute Michael Gatt scored Qrendi’s consolation goal and seconds later, Qrendi defender Steven Schembri received a second booking and his marching orders.
Marsa lost two further points against Fgura with the latter obtaining a rather deserved equaliser with a late goal. Enzo Potenza’s team were still smarting from their first defeat of the season against Pieta and tried to dictate matters, but Fgura were with a sky-high morale after their five star show against Qrendi in their last outing. The first half had little to offer with Marsa trying to attack but Fgura were very organised in all departments and even went close on 21 minutes when Rafael Prudente’s effort finished against the post. The second half was less tactical and more spectacular with Fgura again going close with an Ewertton goal attempt. On 69 minutes Marsa broke the deadlock when Kane Bonello served Amadou Samb, who rounded two defenders before beating veteran goalkeeper Julian Azzopardi for a well taken goal. Ten minutes from time, Marsa were down to ten when Gonzalo Virano received a second booking. Fgura made a last-ditch effort to save the match and a Jake Stensen header skimmed the crossbar. Then on 90 minutes form a freekick action, Ewertton’s header came in the path of Prudente who made no mistake from close range, much to the joy of the Fgura clan on the stands.
Swieqi United bagged an important three points against Mgarr United, to get level in the standings with Marsa on 12 points. It was a hard-earned win for the Orange, in an eventful match, who went ahead on 20 minutes thanks to an unlucky own goal by Jamie Lee Micallef, who headed the ball into his own net after a cross by Kristian Sultana. Mgarr, with coach Patrick Curmi changing his team on a few places, started the second half well and scored a deserved equaliser just after the hour, through Santiago Archaval who took advantage of a defensive mix up, shooting low past Swieqi goalkeeper Jean-Claude Debattista. Archaval now scored four of Mgarr’s five league goals so far this season. Five minutes later, Debattista was sent-off for handling the ball outside the area, with ex-Msida St Joseph goalkeeper Gosef Mizzi making his Challenge League debut. However, Mgarr did not take advantage of their numerical superiority and it even got worse for the Greens deep into added time. Leonardo de Bortoli won the ball on midfield, sending Frank Temile through who was brought down in the box. Captain Alan Schembri-Wismayer made no mistake from the spot to send his team home with a very valuable three points.
St Andrews beat the original St Andrew’s from Luqa 3-1 on Friday night, a very welcome win for Brian Said’s team, who have been struggling to win points so far this season. Thanks to this win, the Luxol side joined Luqa on the ranking on the six points mark. It all started well for Luqa when Lucky Nwaogu opened the scoring after just six minutes play. However, on 18 minutes, Sano Kei levelled for Luxol, his first of two goals on the night. The match developed into an interesting but certainly no high-level battle. When the game seems to be destined for a draw, Luxol struck twice. Seven minutes from time, a header from Brazilian substitute Luis Andre put St Andrews ahead and one minute before the end of regular time, Japanese forward Sano Kei added his second of the night, rounding off a well-constructed counter attack.
All images copyright Stephen Gatt