General Category

Vital wins for Mqabba, Lija, Pembroke, Fgura, St Andrews

Thu 23 Dec 2021, 13:55

GROUP A

Pembroke joined Naxxar at the top of the standings, beating the Lions by the odd goal in three in the top of the table clash last Friday night. For Naxxar this was the second consecutive defeat after a run of eight straight wins. Pembroke were the better team and took the lead after only three minutes when Neil Pace Cocks scored a beauty with a shot from the edge of the area, rocketing in the top corner of the net. Naxxar staged a reaction but Pembroke were the more dangerous side, with Naxxar goalkeeper Omar Borg making two great saves to keep Naxxar in the game. At the start of the second half, Joel Ellul missed a sitter for the Lions and on the hour, Pembroke doubled the score with a Weverton Gomes header from a corner action. Five minutes later, Pembroke could have added a third but Erikys da Silva missed a penalty with his shot hitting the base of the upright. Naxxar attacked for most of the remaining minutes managing to pull one back in stoppage through young substitute Jean-Leon Cassar, who scored a great goal from the edge of the area.

On Tuesday evening, Vittoriosa Stars returned to winning ways after four consecutive defeats, surprisingly beating promotion aspirants Zejtun 3-2. Vittoriosa played one of their best matches so far this season with Ghanian defender Daniel Sowatey playing a blinder in defence and Nigerian striker Tejumola Ayorinde doing the same in attack. Orosco Anonam’s team attacked for most of the match, especially in the second half where they forced their opponents inside their own area, but were very erratic in their final pass and it must be said that the Vittoriosa side defended effectively. Vince Carbonaro’s side built a two-goal cushion inside the first twenty minutes, taking full advantage of Zejtun’s slipshod defending. On eleven minutes, Ayorinde headed towards Ayrton Micallef who shot low into the net from an acute angle. Ten minutes later Ayorinde again nodded towards Sowatey who fired a beauty in the top corner. The Corinthians only came to life on 35 minutes when Gianfranco Micallef won a penalty, which was converted by Jean Carlos, his 13th goal of the season. As expected, Zejtun stormed forward in the second half but were jolted on 51 minutes when Ayrton Micallef scored his second of the game when a Zejtun clearance rebounded off him and into the net. For the rest of the game Zejtun staged siege on the Vittoriosa fort but only managed to score on 90 minutes with a deflected shot by Claudio Murici finished at the back of the net.

It was Vittoriosa’s second outing in the space of four days as the Stars played Marsaxlokk last Saturday, with the latter coming out victorious with a fully deserved 1-3 win. The moral of Pablo Doffo’s men is sky high after beating league leaders Naxxar the week before and once again proved against Vittoriosa that they are a hard nut to crack for any team. It was a hard-fought and eventful match with Jeremy Delmar opening the score for Marsaxlokk on 15 minutes after being sent through, beating Stars goalkeeper Ryan Marmara with a low shot. Two minutes before half-time, lanky Argentinian striker Juan Cappellino doubled the lead for Marsaxlokk with an easy tap in. However, Marsaxlokk received a huge setback when goalkeeper Frederick Tabone was shown a straight red card on the stroke of half-time after fouling Ayorinde outside his box, denying the Nigerian livewire a clear chance at goal. Vittoriosa looked more determined in the second half and were awarded a penalty on the 48th minute mark, which was converted by Ayorinde. Despite playing with ten, Marsaxlokk scored a third goal on 76 minutes thanks to Terrence Vella, who rounded off a swift counter-attack. After the final whistle, tempers flared with the referee showing another three red cards; Calvin Camilleri for Marsaxlokk and Ali Oularbi and assistant coach Iro Curmi for the Birgu side.

Yesterday evening, Lija moved to safer waters following a 3-0 win over Rabat Ajax. The first half was a balanced affair with both sides having their fair share of scoring opportunities. Lija took the lead on 15 minutes thanks to Lian Xuereb, who advanced on the left and into the area, rounding two players before lobbing the ball over Ajax’ goalkeeper Jean Matthias Vella. Rabat were unlucky to hit the crossbar on 36 minutes with a Zachary Tanti header off an Aidan Azzopardi corner and nine minutes later, Luke Bonnici performed a wonderful save on an Elmir Lekaj freekick. Four minutes into stoppage time, off a swift counter-attack, Pedrinho had an attempt which was tipped into a corner by Vella. One minute in the second half, Lydon Micallef went close with a diagonal shot from the left ending just wide as Lija were now holding the initiative. On 55 minutes Lydon Micallef sent Lian Xuereb through and the latter pulled to the left before hitting low past Vella. Lija were now dominating, adding another goal on 70 minutes. Xuereb hit the foot of the upright with a shot from the right and off the rebound, Lydon Micallef lobbed the ball over Vella. With this win, Lija are now with 15 points at rank five, on equal terms with Melita.

This was also Rabat’s second game in the space of four days as they met Melita last Sunday, figuring in a scoreless draw. The two promoted sides gave their all to win the match, but both sides cancelled out each other with neither side prevailing. Both defences were on top and the match resulted in one with very few scoring opportunities. The Magpies had their best chance on six minutes with Larens Vella missing a sitter all alone in front of goal with his shot skimming the crossbar. In the second half Melita had the edge and had two good scoring opportunities on 70 minutes through Julian Galea and ten minutes later through substitute Eman Falzon, but in both cases the Rabat custodian saved his side with two great saves.

St Georges’ huge problems continue as they were defeated 2-0 by Lija Athletic last Sunday at the Victor Tedesco Stadium. The Blues are going through a rough period in their glorious history as this was their fifth consecutive league defeat, remaining anchored at the bottom of NCL Group A, which is now half way. With eventually three teams of each group getting relegated, only a miracle would safe them from the drop. The game was a one-sided affair, with Lydon Micallef opening the score for Lija on 36 minutes. St George’s had their moments and worked hard, but it was all over when Kurt Borg doubled for Lija just before the hour mark. All in all a deserved win for the Athletic, who have now lifted themselves up from the relegation zone by winning the full six points in a space of four days.

Mqabba continued on their recent good showings against San Gwann last Saturday, registering another priceless victory to move to safer waters in the middle of the table, going above the same San Gwann in the standings. Mqabba were the better team and fully deserved their victory against a San Gwann side which once again disappointed. San Gwann seem to have lost their start of the season flair and after their crushing victory against Rabat their form faded out. Mqabba made sure of victory with two goals inside the first half an hour of the match. Neil Falzon opened the score on 17 minutes when San Gwann international goalkeeper Cain Formosa failed to grasp a Thomas Veronese shot from a corner action. Six minutes later, Mqabba added a second off a Spiteri freekick and a free header from Gabriel Mannino. San Gwann staged a timid comeback in the second half with their only chance coming late in the game through Nezar Abouhaisa who blasted over the bar when well placed. Coach Jean-Paul Desira drew his conclusions after the match and reached a mutual agreement with the San Gwann committee to terminate his contract, after nearly three years at the helm of the senior side.


GROUP B

Pieta’ Hotspurs ended the first round on top of the standings in Group B thanks to a last gasp equaliser against Swieqi United and also thanks to Tarxien’s shock defeat at the hands of Fgura. Swieqi were almost home and dry on 94 minutes, leading deservedly 2-1 against Pieta when Japanese forward Yuta Morita struck a dramatic equaliser. Swieqi played the better football with Jose Caetano and Joseph Willy their best players. The Orange took the lead on four minutes when Caetano beat the offside trap and lobbed the ball over onrushing goalkeeper Reeves Cini, who managed to handle outside the area, but the ball again came to Caetano who headed home. Pieta levelled matters on 33 minutes when Daniel Zerafa scored direct from a freekick. Just before the break Swieqi were back in front when Willy headed towards Roderick Taliana who shot low into the net. On the resumption Caetano missed a sitter in front of goal and on 90 minutes, a Frank Temile shot smashed against the crossbar. On 94 minutes, Morita’s shot gave Pieta the draw and a precious point, enough to remain leaders of the NCL Group B.

Fgura United, in splendid form recently, turned defeat into victory against Tarxien Rainbows, a huge upset for Steve D’Amato’s team, who were, at times, overrun in all departments. The 4-1 final score was justified on especially the second half as the first half was quite balanced. It was the Rainbows who opened the scoring thanks to Luke Sciberras in the 37th minute, giving Tarxien a 1-0 lead at half-time. Fgura equalized three minutes into the second half after a great individual goal by diminutive midfield livewire Ewertton. Fgura then added three goals in the space of ten minutes. Centre-back Charlles Gandini put Fgura ahead in the 58th minute from a very well placed freekick. Matthew Brincat made it 3-1 on 64 minutes and Donys Quintero sealed the win for Kevin Vella’s side four minutes later. The Blues were stunned and failed to react, giving Fgura an emphatic victory. It was the first time ever in history that Tarxien and Fgura appeared in a direct competitive encounter against each other.

Zebbug returned to winning ways after their defeat at the hands of Qrendi last week, winning an important clash against direct opponents for the promotion hunt Marsa. It was deserved victory for the Rangers, who were the better side for the whole 90 minutes. For Marsa it was yet another disappointing performance, their fourth consecutive match without a win. Coach Vincenzo Potenza has yet to find the winning formula. The side is built around many experienced players, practically all who graced the Premier League, but the side simply has not started to produce good football, and we have already reached the half way mark. Zebbug took the lead on 15 minutes when Ayrton Mizzi gave an inch perfect pass towards Igor Misan who shot low into the net. Marsa obtained the equaliser against the run of play on 37 minutes when Gonzalo Virano converted from the penalty spot. Zebbug regained the lead on 63 minutes when a Randall Vella scorcher slammed against the crossbar and from the rebound Miguel Perez-Jimenez headed home. Two minutes later Zebbug put the game to bed when an Misan shot was deflected into the net by a Marsa defender.

Brian Said’s St Andrews obtained another important win, disposing Qrendi with a clinical 2-0 win, their fourth consecutive victory if we include the FA Trophy win against Zurrieq as well. After only two minutes, Jamie Sixsmith put St Andrews 1-0 up after the Qrendi defence failed to clear the danger from a fast St Andrews attack. Colombian winger Santiago Martinez doubled on 16 minutes after another error in the Qrendi defence, with Qrendi goalkeeper Lawrence Cauchi clashing with one of his own defenders and Martinez having the easiest of tasks completing into the empty net. Alex Nilsson, playing against his ex-team, had another opportunity halfway the first half but his shot from the edge of the box missed target. Qrendi were dominating the second half but somehow could not find the net. Straight after the restart, the unmarked Ian Zammit missed a sitter from an ideal position, with eventually the St Andrews rear-guard clearing the danger. On the hour, Qrendi got a setback as playmaker Sebastian Perdomo had to be replaced injured. On 77 minutes, Miguel Montfort interfered in style before Joseph Ogunnupe could connect, while Ogunnupe’s header deep into stoppage time sailed over the crossbar.

Like Pieta, also Luqa obtained a last-gasp equaliser against Mgarr in a direct clash between two struggle sides at the bottom of the table. Mgarr looked set for an important victory but Luqa’s late equaliser dashed their hopes. The match never reached any high standards and both sides confirmed their difficult moment. Both are newly promoted sides in their first ever experience in this category and their difficulty in adapting to this category is evident, even though we are at the half way stage. Mgarr took the lead on 18 minutes when Jamie Lee Micallef passed towards Harry Wood who lobbed the ball beautifully over goalkeeper Pablo Villar. The original St Andrew’s had a glorious opportunity on the hour when they were awarded a penalty but from the penalty spot, substitute Lucky Nwaogu saw his shot blocked by the Mgarr custodian. When all seemed lost, Luqa managed to salvage a point when Alan Abdul Rahman made his way inside the area and fired the ball home. Two days later, the experienced Patrick Curmi, the mentor behind Mgarr’s success of the recent years, announced to step back from his coaching duties, taking up another role with the club.

Images copyright by Stephen Gatt