Amateur League Match Day 1 review
Kalkara United started the Championship well, defeating Ghaxaq last Sunday, mainly thanks to a magnificent display by Ahmad Ayoub. The Libyan Kalkara attacker, apart from scoring two of his side’s goals, created all sorts of trouble in the Ghaxaq rear-guard throughout the match. Although the first half was quite balanced, the second belonged to Kalkara. Close to the half hour, Kenneth Ekezie’s header for Ghaxaq was saved well by Brandon Debono, the new Kalkara United goalkeeper. Five minutes later, Kalkara opened the score. The Ghaxaq defence failed to clear the ball and Ahmad Ayoub drilled home from the edge of the box, a rising shot which gave Ghaxaq goalkeeper Christian Schembri no chance. Barely a minute later, Ekezie wasted another opportunity, heading the ball over the crossbar from an ideal position. In added time of the first half, Ayoub doubled the score for Kalkara, beating Schembri with a 20-meters distance thunderbolt. Kalkara added a third on 67 minutes, thanks to a Jean-Claude Cesare strike, who hit home in two attempts, his first official goal in the Kalkara colours. On the other side, on 74 minutes, Ekezie missed target once more with another header. Substitute Matthew Degiorgio added goal number four in the 81st minute and in the dying minutes, Jordan Vella and Leeroy Bonett could have added a fifth for Kalkara, but both attempts failed to find target.
Attard, who has to start the league with a -9 penalty after breaching MFA regulations on bribery and betting last season, started their campaign brightly as they saw off Siġġiewi 3-0 during the 2021/22 NAL opener last Friday at the Victor Tedesco Stadium. The team, led by Daniel Agius were the better side throughout the 90 minutes with Siġġiewi keeper Leon Seisun abeing kept busy and performing a string of good saves. Attard took the upperhand on 40 minutes through a Nicholas Schembri header with the same player, the Amateur League 2020/21 Top Scorer, doubling the score towards the end of the match. At the stroke of full-time, Attard captain Nigel Spiteri made sure of the three points for this season as Seisun was beaten for a third time. Deep into added time, Attard were denied of the fourth goal as Lydon Cuschieri's shot hit the post. Worth to mention was the return to football of 30-year-old Gabriel Buttigieg, who had been out injured for nearly three years. The Siggiewi player appeared at the start of the second half, a remarkable come-back for the midfielder.
Renald Bugeja’s Ta’ Xbiex showed last Saturday that they are certainly no pushovers this season, defeating Dingli Swallows 4-2. It was a much-deserved win for Ta’ Xbiex, who were already 3-0 at the half-time whistle. The goals were scored by Sean Lanzon in the fourth minute, Jurgen Sciriha on 25 minutes and a Liam Spiteri strike seven minutes later. Dingli were stunned but managed to pull one back on 54 minutes, when Dario Borg converted a penalty. Fifteen minutes from time however, Mauro Busuttil scored Ta’ Xbiex’ fourth goal. Barely a minute after, Melchior Tonna scored Dingli’s second, but that is all what the Swallows could do from their side. Dingli substitute Daniele Marsala received straight red card for serious foul play three minutes before full-time. A magnificent start of the league for Ta’ Xbiex, who did not score four goals in one match since their 5-0 trashing of Marsaskala on 15 October 2017, nearly four years ago.
Gharghur also left their mark on the first match day of the Amateur League with a fine win over Xghajra Tornados. A surprise result for many, as the latter are expected to be amongst the promotion contenders this season. Speedy Nigerian attacker Ikechukwu Igwemeke opened the score for his team just after the half hour mark. Xghajra were pushing for an equaliser but missed a few opportunities, with Gharghur also having their moments. With six minutes left on the clock however, Mark Cutajar put the outcome of the match beyond doubt with a second Gharghur goal. A great win for coach Kevin Borg-Degiorgio’s team, who might upset a few more teams this season playing like this.
Birzebbuga and Msida played out a goalless draw in their opening match of the season. It was a balanced affair throughout, with both sides having their moments. Both sides fielded a number of new players and clearly lacked cohesion this early in the season. On 19 minutes, an Abdul Busari attempt, after being sent through on the right, was turned into a corner. Barely a minute later, Chris Caruana’s 20-meter distance shot was handled with difficulty by Birzebbuga goalkeeper Leighton Mifsud. Benjamin Battistino picked up the loose ball and his cross was missed by an inch by Busari, positioned completely unmarked at the far corner. On the other side, on 28 minutes, Sunday Ubuwere was sent through by Sam Kind, but Msida goalkeeper James Borg turned his attempt into a corner. Just after the break, Busari just could not connect to a cross from the right, another opportunity for Msida to break the deadlock. Just after the hour, an Isaac Chircop attempt from the edge of the box from a corner kick action just missed target. On 66 minutes, Msida centre back Alex Cauchi received his second yellow card and received his marching orders. With eight minutes left on the clock, a Kind thunderbolt was turned into a corner by Msida goalkeeper Borg. On the stroke of full-time, Busari’s shot from the edge of the box was turned into a corner by Mifsud. Eventually, Birzebbuga could not take advantage of their numerical superiority and both teams had to settle for a draw, a fair result.
Title favourites Zabbar St Patrick started the season well, pushing aside a determined Santa Venera side 4-0. As expected, Zabbar did most of the running and they opened the score on 24 minutes, thanks to a goal by defender Philip Chircop, slotting the ball home after a goal mouth scrimmage. Only one goal separated Zabbar and Santa Venera at half -time, the latter needed to complimented for there never-say-die attitude. Six minutes after the break, Gianluca Zammit doubled for Zabbar after a fine solo effort. On 74 minutes, Anderjay Grech hit the post with an angled long-distance shot. Barely a minute after, from a corner-kick, Francesco Gusman’s superb header was cleared of the line by Fabio Attard. But Santa Venera’s resistance finally broke in the 82nd minute when Miguel Ciantar added Zabbar’s third with an angled shot from the edge of the box. Two minutes later, substitute Isaac Abela could have added his team’s fourth, but failed to find the net with only the goalkeeper to beat. However, four minutes before full-time, Jean Pierre Mifsud-Triganza found the net from close range, opening his personal season account.
Zurrieq might be St Patrick’s main challengers this season, beating Mellieha 3-0 in their opening outing. The team of George Magri had to fight hard to shake off Mellieha’s resistance however, but opened well as after only four minutes, Timmy Thomas opened the score for his new club, his 276th in Maltese football. Ivan Bojovic doubled on the hour, and on the stroke of full-time, Kurt Darmanin sealed the issue with a third goal. Mellieha ended the match with ten players as captain Jake Farrugia received his second yellow card in the 72nd minute after a reckless tackle.
The 26th derby between Mtarfa and Mdina Knights was a target for the former, beating the Knights 3-1 in an entertaining match at the Sirens Stadium last Sunday. After a balanced first half, the club of coach Manuel Caruana made the difference in the second half. The introduction of Venezuelan livewire Nestor Canas during half-time certainly helped. More was expected from Mdina, who spent summer well, getting in some quality players, mainly from Mgarr United. Nippy winger Jean-Paul Formosa opened the score on 26 minutes, but three minutes later, Daniel Cilia equalised. Two minutes after the break, experienced Mtarfa captain Daniel Cremona put his team in front and the same player added his second on 74 minutes. A deserved win for the ambitious Mtarfa team.
Kirkop United, who were last season very close to win promotion to the Challenge League, opened their league campaign with a hard-fought two all draw against Qormi, who were relegated from the NCL. The latter fielded a young team, mostly own youth academy products, guided by captain Carmelo Farrugia and experienced ex-Santa Venera goalkeeper Claude Carbonaro. The yellows played a good match and were in the end unlucky not to leave the Luxol Stadium with the full three points, as Kirkop’s equaliser arrived in added time of the game. Shamison Zammit opened the score for Demis Paul Scerri’s side on 21 minutes but fourteen minutes later, Kirkop equalised thanks to a Darren Darmanin goal. Close to the hour, Thomas Grima put Qormi 2-1 up, but in the 92nd minute, Italian Kirkop substitute Simone Lo Presti equalised in dramatic fashion, bringing the highly entertaining match to an end.