Sliema 6
Neptunes 4
(1-1, 0-0, 2-2, 3-1)


Sliema Burger King are for the first time this season undisputed leaders of the first division. More important is that the Blues have edged closer to retaining the title they won so dramatically last year.

They only have to collect minimum spoils in their last outing against Sirens on Sunday to make sure the championship crown goes their way.

Yesterday they shook off the bold challenge of rivals Neptunes Vodafone to finally steer clear on a 6-4 victory which matured in the last session.

While Sliema had the wind in their sails at least psychologically after the 8-4 defeat they inflicted on the Reds two weeks ago, Neptunes were forced to pick up the loose threads after having relinquished a four-point advantage over the Blues.

Tony Camilleri, not untypically, wanted to exploit his team's speed and in the opening two sessions Neptunes nibbled into their opponents' tactics, forcing them to committing exclusion fouls. But the Reds failed to capitalise at least in some discreet way on their man-ups. That enabled Sergio Afric's team to keep their noses in front.

With John Soler's menace partially subdued it was Nicky Falzon who stood out with two vital goals, even if there was the complicity of lack of concentration from Neptunes' extreme defender.

Sliema's zone cover was countered by Neptunes' double-shielding on the centre as both sets of players lifted off amid the vociferous cheering from both factions of supporters.

Soler gave the Blues the lead with a shot from seven metres which took a slight deflection. Neptunes tried to break, using their speed. They failed to profit from their first two man-ups but David Camilleri converted the Reds' third extra-man set.

Whereas Sliema relied on the menace forthcoming from their centre men, Neptunes banked on their breaking velocity. Sliema missed a man-up midway through the second session, with Lanzon tossing away a chance when coming face to face with Josie Cachia at the other end. Neptunes frittered two more man-ups.

Soler was on two exclusions. At this midway point the Reds were looking the smarter lot but their one on five reading on man-ups was none too encouraging.

Michele Stellini was introduced at the beginning of the third quarter. Meanwhile, the covering tactics remained unaltered. Ivan Muscat's fine swivel almost at the restart helped him beat Cachia for a 2-1 score in the Blues' favour. Stellini's millimetric pass to Lanzon, who expertly jettisoned himself, brought Neptunes the equaliser.

Gradually, marking became more stringent and as a consequence pots at goal were none too easy to come by. A hasty sortie by Adrian Cachia gave Falzon the opportunity to anticipate him. In no time the ball was in the net with a splendid back-hand from the closest of angles.

A slip by Josie Cachia heralded Neptunes' equaliser in the dying seconds of the third session as Malcolm Azzopardi hooked in from a narrow angle.

The excitement kept brewing as Neptunes and Sliema remained locked scorewise and in terms of tactical deployment. A splendid snap-shot from an angled position, seven metres out, had Falzon putting Sliema ahead for the fourth time.

The Blues scored from a man-up at the fourth time of asking when Clint Debono rifled in from a central position. Neptunes squandered their next numerical advantage, their fifth miss from seven occasions.

Time was running out for the Reds. Sliema's muscle was outfoxing their speed. Ian Azzopardi converted the third man-up on eight to give Neptunes some slim hopes with 35 seconds left.

But the Blues expertly retained possession and found time to slot in another goal in the dying seconds.

The Sliema fans' elation was understandable. Neptunes had been downed and the Blues' chances of retaining the title were infinitely boosted.

Sliema: J. Cachia, N. Falzon (2), M. Manara, M. Galea Pace, P. Cachia, J. Soler (2), J. Paris, K. Engerer, C. Debono (1), F. Cutajar, K. Schembri, I. Muscat (1), E. Aquilina.

Neptunes: A. Cachia, N. Lanzon (1), D. Pisani, K. Galea, E. Cachia, D. Camilleri (1), J. Licari, C. Zammit, N. Gouder, M. Azzopardi (1), I. Azzopardi (1), M. Stellini, M. Pisani.

Referees: M. Di Napoli, M. Dalli.

Division Two: Saints earn second spot

San Giljan 9
Valletta 5
(2-0, 1-1, 2-2, 4-2)

By virtue of their victory over Valletta, San Giljan Kia Motors made the runner-up spot their own at the expense of last season's champions Marsaxlokk who contrived to drop the points against Ta' Xbiex on Saturday.

As expected, the Saints had an edge over the City team, even if it was a two-goal start earned in the first session which left them ahead of their opponents. After both teams shared the goals in the middle sessions, San Giljan won the last quarter to emerge victorious by a four-goal margin.

San Giljan: K. Sciberras, J. Mercieca (1), S. Mercieca (1), C. Bonello, C. Bugeja, M. Lombardi (4), K. Grima, G. Farrugia, A. Borda (1), G. Ghirxi, D. Debono, K. Grima Scott (2).

Valletta: E. Arrigo, D. Tyler (1), M. Camilleri, M. Micallef (1), D. Degiorgio, M. Farrugia, K. Hyzler, J. Farrugia (2), D. Shaw, K. Rausi, T. Diacono, G. Zammit (1).

Referees: A. Fenech, I. Sciriha.

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