BOV Challenge League Review
Naxxar Lions keep marching on in Group A of the BOV Challenge League with a fine 2-0 victory over promotion contenders Lija Athletic, their third win out of three. Zejtun were held with a goalless draw by San Gwann while Pembroke, who did not play this weekend, also have full points with two victories. Swieqi United lead the way in Group B after a narrow win over Senglea, while Qrendi have full points from two games with another victory against Mgarr United.
Naxxar Lions made it three in a row defeating Lija Athletic with a goal in each half. Naxxar thus remained on top of the standings with maximum points. It was another good display by the Lions, who broke the deadlock on 24 minutes when Gilberto Carrara received from Jurgen Debono before beating a couple of defenders and scoring with a precise lob. Lija had an immediate and unlucky reaction when a Joao Pedro freekick smashed against the crossbar. The second half was less frenetic with Naxxar easily controlling the pace of the match. With nine minutes to go Lija were reduced to ten men when Brooke Farrugia received a second booking. Two minutes from time Samuel Saldanha missed a sitter after dribbling past the goalkeeper but his shot hit the upright. However, sixty seconds later, Naxxar made sure of victory when Debono drilled the ball home from an acute angle.
Zejtun and San Gwann fired blanks in Saturday’s opening match at the Victor Tedesco Stadium. The Corinthians were arguably the better team but they created very few scoring chances to claim victory. San Gwann played a diligent and defensive match and the point earned was a deserved one. The first half had not much to offer with both goalkeepers rarely called into action. The second half offered some good moments with a Christian Grech header brilliantly saved by Cain Formosa some minutes past the hour. On 71 minutes, San Gwann had their only real danger with an Andrea Zammit shot just missing the crossbar. In the final minute, Zejtun went close with Sgaria Farias being denied by another brilliant Formosa save, and with Samba Tounkara blasting over the bar from an ideal position.
Like the previous game, Melita and Mqabba played out another goalless draw, with Melita deserving something more from the point earned. But for all the pressure on the Mqabba defence, especially in the second half, Melita had little or nothing to show in the end. The closest Melita could get was early in the second half when a Matthew Debattista cross shot from near the corner flag, completely deceived Mqabba custodian Craig Adilla, who was however saved by the upright. Mqabba defended well but were ineffective in attack and can be more than satisfied with the point earned.
Vittoriosa registered their first win of the season, defeating rivals St Georges by 3-1. The match started on a bad note for Vince Carbonaro’s team however, as after just five minutes play, goalkeeper Ryan Marmara was sent off after a foul on St George’s striker Yuta Nomura. The numerical disadvantage did not seem to bother the Stars much and the Reds took the lead on 21 minutes thanks to Quincy Bregman. The Birgu side doubled their lead from a corner action, thanks to a great volley from Daniel Sowatey in the 33rd minute, his first in the colours of Vittoriosa Stars. Deep into stoppage time of the first half Hugo Rosa added more misery to the St George’s side, adding Vittoriosa’s third goal. Ex-Stars midfielder Gianluca Sultana reduced the gap in the 52nd minute from the penalty spot, which proved only to be a consolation goal. It was Vittoriosa’s fifth consecutive win over Pioneers in recent years. The last win of St George’s dates back from 2015.
Marsaxlokk and Rabat Ajax remain winless as both teams crossed swords on Friday night in both their second league fixture. The first half was a scrappy affair with Rabat having a slight advantage over the seasiders, showing more initiative and creating the better chances. After the break, Marsaxlokk were immediately pushing the Magpies into their defence and in the 50th minute, substitute Jeremy Delmar broke the deadlock with a header from close-range, after the Rabat defence failed to clear the ball. Marsaxlokk saw more of the ball in the second half but ten minutes before full-time it was Rabat who equalised. The referee in charge awarded a penalty to Rabat after a handsball incident in the box, giving Marsaxlokk defender Walter Serrano his marching orders. Young Larens Vella made no mistake from the spot to give Rabat a precious first point in this season’s Challenge League.
Swieqi gained three valuable points after a hard-earned victory over bottom side Senglea. For Senglea this was the third successive defeat, which was however a very unfair result on the team led by veteran coach Dennis Fenech. Senglea played their best match of the season and were very unlucky not to gain at least a point for their efforts. Swieqi had a great start hitting the crossbar through Colombian Johan Castano after three minutes, with the same player scoring the winner three minutes later. Senglea had some efforts well saved by Jean-Claude Debattista and just before the break Swieqi should have doubled the score but Alan Schembri Wismayer failed to beat James Pisani from the penalty spot. After the tea, Senglea increased the pressure and were unlucky on 64 minutes when a Larson Mallia shot was stopped by the base of the upright. Ten minutes from time, Andres Tenorio won a penalty for Senglea, but Debattista preserved Swieqi’s lead saving the penalty taken by Danny Claridge.
Qrendi notched their second successive win beating Mgarr United by three goals to one. Joseph Ogunnupe was Qrendi’s hero scoring a brace in the second half to give the Greens a useful victory. For Mgarr this was their first setback after their historic victorious debut against Senglea. Mgarr gave Qrendi a stiff opposition in a keenly contested match. However, Patrick Curmi’s team clearly lacked punch in front of goal whilst Qrendi took the chances that came their way. With barely three minutes on the clock, Dasser Sammut headed home Qrendi’s opener, but four minutes later Mgarr were back on level terms with a well taken goal scored by new recruit Santiago Achaval.Five minutes after the break, Qrendi were back in front when a Sebastian Perdomo freekick hit the upright and from the rebound, Ogunnupe drilled the ball home. On 79 minutes Ogunnupe was floored by Gennaro Milone with the referee in charge opting for a penalty, from which Ogunnupe sealed the issue with a precise grounder.
Last Sunday at the Victor Tedesco stadium, Fgura United collected an important three points after beating St Andrews 2-1. The Violets are still waiting for their first victory, after unexpectedly holding league favourites Marsa on a draw on the first match day, but losing to Pieta the weekend after. Kevin Vella’s Fgura played a good match and piled up the pressure immediately from kick-off, deservedly scoring the opening goal after 13 minutes thanks to Brazilian Rafael Prudente. Seven minutes before the end of the first half, St Andrews levelled the score thanks to Alan Borg Olivier. As the second half went underway Brian Said's team were putting a lot of pressure on Fgura's defence, in search for the winner. However, in the 68th minute, Fgura scored the decisive goal, thanks again to Prudente, his second of the night and his third of the season.
After their surprise draw in their opening match against Marsa, newly promoted Luqa went even better in their third outing defeating section leaders Pieta with a goal in each half. This keen and entertaining tussle was a delight to watch and was probably the best game of the weekend. Luqa gave their hearts out in a spirited defensive display. Pieta could have wrapped the match in the first quarter of an hour, missing two glorious chances in front of goal, and in the end, they paid dearly for they misses. Luqa were always menacing in their breaks and just before the end of the first half took the lead with a great Lydon Sciberras header. As expected, Pieta sieged their opponents in the second half but could not get past a solid Luqa defence led by the powerful Kayode Olowoyo. Then with fifteen minutes to go Luqa gave the deadly blow when young substitute Joshua Micallef sealed the issue with the second goal after another fast break.
A last gasp goal saved Tarxien from their first defeat of the season and denied Zebbug their first win of the season. Zebbug were heading for victory but Ricardiho’s equaliser on 94 minutes saved the day for Steve Damato’s side. Zebbug were the better team in the first half, taking a ten-minute lead through Randall Vella. On 32 minutes Zebbug doubled the score when ex-Pieta defender Travis Bartolo scored a great goal with a shot from the edge of the area. Three minutes from the break a life line for Tarxien who pulled one back through Ricardinho, after a good move between Saturday Nanapere and Matthew Spiteri. In the second half the game was more balanced but goal-mouth actions were not lacking with both sides going near on several occasions. When all seemed lost for the Rainbows, they obtained an equaliser on 94 minutes when Ricardinho managed to hit home with a shot on the turn from just inside the area.
All images (c) Stephen Gatt