Gharghur beat Kalkara in top of the table clash
The match of the week in the National Amateur League was the encounter between the numbers one and two in the ranking of Group A, Gharghur and Kalkara United. It was Kevin Borg-Degiorgio’s team who played the better football last Sunday afternoon and fully deserved their 3-1 win, with captain Karl Azzopardi and centre-back Davide Mula in great shape. After a balanced but quiet opening, the game came to live on 37 minutes, with Gharghur taking the lead. Brandon Debono failed to get hold of a Jayden Aquilina corner-kick and the ball slipped out of the hands of the goalkeeper over the goal-line, a very unfortunate own goal. Four minutes later, Debono blocked Jean Scholey’s close range effort, with Ikechukwu Igwemeke failing to connect to the ball by an inch with only an empty net in front of him. Barely a minute later, Debono performed a great save on the goal line from a Davide Mula attempt from another corner action. On 44 minutes, Gharghur doubled thanks to a goal by Mula, who beat the offside trap, defying Debono for a second time. Five minutes after the re-start, Kalkara pulled one back, a wonderful long-distance grounder of Julian Zammit, which gave Gharghur stand-in custodian Warren Galea no chance. On 66 minutes, Gharghur restored their two-goal lead, thanks to Igwemeke who beat Debono from close-range from another corner action. Gharghur then consolidated their advantage until the very end without much problems, to note that Igwemeke’s header, from a Warren Zerafa corner, on 83 minutes sailed inches over the crossbar. With six wins and three draws, Gharghur remain unbeaten in the NAL Group A, increasing the gap towards number two Kalkara United to five points.
As Attard were not in action last weekend, Birzebbuga’s narrow 1-0 win over Xghajra Tornados meant that the Blues are once more overtaking Attard in the standings, who are now only one point behind second placed Kalkara. The match could have gone either way, but in general failed to live up expectations, with Xghajra parading Neil Scerri in defence, who was out for one year with a cruciate injury. On the stroke of half-time, influential centre-back Yessous Camilleri should have put his side 1-0 up but missed a penalty for Birzebbuga. When the Blues were awarded another penalty on 58 minutes, it was Andrea Cutajar who stepped up, and the defender did not fail, kicking the ball past Luke Attard. Another very important three points won for Paul Camilleri’s side, who should have enough quality in their team to be able to qualify for the Play-Offs at the end of the ride.
The early Sunday morning kick off was between Msida St Joseph and Siggiewi, which the latter won 2-0. Siggiewi fielded a very young side, with four 16-year-old debutants in the starting line-up, due to Covid-19 and injury related problems in their squad. It was therefore no surprise that Msida totally dominated the fixture in terms of ball possession. However, practically through the whole length of the match, Msida were not capable of creating much danger in front of Leon Seisun’s goal. In the first half there were two attempts from Abdullahi Busari and an overhead kick of Alex Cauchi, which all missed target. However, on 43 minutes, Busari headed Msida in front at the far post, his fourth goal of the season, after a corner-kick of Gianluca Tanti. Nicholas Camilleri could have added a second on the stroke of half-time but blasted high from an ideal position. In the second half, the young Siggiewi minors kept on giving a good account of themselves, with the whole team fighting for every ball. With the ball circulation too low and any sort of high pressing non-existing, the Msida team never got going. Substitute Fabrice Hounkpe’s shot from the edge of the box on 74 minutes was the first real threat of Msida in the second half. Three minutes later, an accurate Agatino Sicali grounder was turned into a corner by Seisun with difficulty. On the stroke of full-time, Hounkpe brought the best out of Seisun, with a point blank save from his close-range attempt. Deep into stoppage time, Isaac Chircop added a second for Msida from close-range, after a good dribble by Hounkpe. An important three points for Msida however, who’s main aim is now safeguarding a Play-Off spot to keep their slim hopes of promotion alive.
Dingli also keep their Play-Off hopes alive with a hard fought 2-1 win over bottom side Ghaxaq, stretching their unbeaten streak to six consecutive games. On 19 minutes, Dingli took the lead through a Giuseppe Versace tap in, from a low cross by Robert Ciantar. After the opener, the first half produced little to nothing as both teams lacked the final pass. In the 57th minute Ghaxaq scored the equaliser when Neil Brownrigg scored from a wonderful free kick. This brought back the interest in the match as both teams were eager to take the lead, playing full on attack. In the 66th minute, Ghaxaq goalkeeper Christian Schembri produced a great save from Giuseppe Versace’s low shot. As it looked like both teams were going to have to settle for a draw, Dingli scored the winner deep into stoppage time when Robert Ciantar fed Dario Borg, who controlled the ball well, beating Schembri with an accurate shot. Another moral boosting victory for the Swallows who, against all odds, keeping a few established teams behind them in the standings.
Marsaskala remain unbeaten in all competitions so far this season with a clinical win over Mdina Knights by the odd goal in three. It was a hard-fought but deserved win for Brian Vella’s side as the Knights gave them a good match. In the 13th minute, Marsaskala Fabrizio Zammit released a thunderbolt from a long range which hit the crossbar, with Adrian Carabott’s rebound being turned into a corner. From that resultant corner-kick, Carabott drove the ball behind Knights stand-in goalkeeper Dwayne Camilleri, after an assist by Radnor Farrugia, to open the score for Marsaskala. It was in the 21st minute that Mdina had their first major chance witch Jamie Camilleri shooting high from a pass by Jordan Debattista. Two minutes later, Marsaskala should have doubled after Joseph Chetcuti received a pass from Carabott and dribbled his way past the goalie, but somehow failed to put the ball into the net. On the half-hour mark Mdina equalized, courtesy of a Jordan Debattista goal, who received from Andy Paul Camilleri. Five minutes after the break, Dylan Camilleri cleared the ball from the goalline after a Nicky Zammit attempt. On 63 minutes, three minutes after the Mdina goalkeeper saved another Carabott attempt, Marsaskala scored the winner. Chetcuti received the ball from Carabott and the veteran finished well from close-range. Things got worse for Mdina just two minutes later as captain Gianluca Vella was sent-off after a foul on Chetcuti. During the last twenty minutes, Carabott’s free-kick ended wide, substitute Daniel Saliba had a chance to score for Mdina, while on 86 minutes, Mdina defender Karl Cilia cleared a ball from the line from a shot by Carabott. An eventful and entertaining match throughout the whole ninety minutes. Marsaskala needed this win to end the first-round commitments on top, three points ahead of Zurrieq and six on Mtarfa.
With second placed Zurrieq having a ‘bye’ last weekend, Mtarfa took full advantage by getting three points nearer to the Reds, beating Kirkop United by a solitary goal. They are now five consecutive games unbeaten and clearly knock on the door for a Play-Off spot. In the first half of the match Mtarfa edged it in terms of chances but overall, the game was quite balanced. The game was decided by just one goal, scored by Mtarfa in the 71st minute of the game. The goal was set-up by left flank defender Dylan Mifsud, who skipped past two players and crossed in the box towards substitute Mikail Camilleri, who tapped in from close range to give his side another priceless win. Another defeat for Jeffrey Mifsud’s Kirkop, firmly anchored at the bottom of the table, being only a shadow of the team who last season reached the Final of the Promotion Play-Offs.
St Patrick beat Mellieha 2-1 on a chilly Sunday evening at the Sirens Stadium. It was a much necessary win for Fausto Craighero’s side, who are now locked at fourth place in the ranking, five points ahead of Mdina and the same Mellieha. Both Zabbar goals were scored early in the match by Isaac Abela. The Yellows dominated the first half and took an early fifth minute lead with a tap-in by Abela, well positioned near the second post, after an accurate pass by Kyle Tanti. On 14 minutes, Abela added a second for St Patrick, another close-range goal after the Mellieha defence failed to clear the ball in their own box from a corner action. On the other side, a Luke Scicluna long distance shot was saved by Franklin Vella on 44 minutes without much difficulty, one of the few opportunities Mellieha had in the first half. On overhead kick by Jean-Pierre Mifsud Triganza on the stroke of half-time sailed inches over the crossbar. On 64 minutes, the match got injected with some new life as the Blues were awarded a penalty for a foul from Zabbar goalkeeper Franklin Vella on Andie Sammut. Sammut took the spot kick himself and send the Gozitan the other way to reduce the arrears. The goal gave Mellieha wings and two minutes later, Paul Ellul’s first-timer, after a quick counter-attack, sailed over the crossbar. However, St Patrick’s edge over the Blues was never in doubt. On 73 minutes, a free-kick by Mifsud Triganza, destined for top corner, was saved by Mellieha custodian James Abela, which was the best of a further four or five goalscoring opportunities St Patrick created in the latter stages of the match.
In the lower part of the table, Santa Venera beat Qormi 2-0 in a quiet match between two highly inconsistent teams so far. The Lightnings took their chances well and therefore deserved their win, leapfrogging Qormi in the rankings. Match winner was Zack Camilleri, who scored both goals, one of Santa Venera’s best performers this season. On six minutes, Qormi defender Isaac Mizzi did well to prevent Camilleri from scoring an early opener for Santa Venera with an in-extremis tackle. On 21 minutes, Qormi were very close taking the lead when Leon Theuma’s shot from outside of the box finished inches wide. Twelve minutes later, Miguel Mamo produced a long pass to Miguel Busuttil, who controlled well with his chest but could not find the net. Two minutes after the restart, Thomas Grima tested Lightnings goalkeeper Bradley Scalpello, who saved well. In the 65th minute, Santa Venera took the lead thanks to Camilleri, whose shot from the edge of the box beat Claude Carbonaro. Just four minutes later, Santa Venera doubled their lead again thanks to Camilleri, this time after producing some fine dribbling and placing the ball neatly past the Qormi goalkeeper. Three minutes from full-time, Santa Venera substitute Luke Taliana tried his luck with a shot from outside the box, but his attempt finished high.
Images copyright by Stephen Gatt