Neptunes Grimaldi again drew on a sound rearguard and opportunistic scoring expertise to assert their unquestioned superiority over Sliema Betsson who once again looked frail, shot shy and devoid of firepower.
In a low-key match which hardly enthused the crowd, the 7-3 scoreline in the Reds’ favour was evidence of the clear disparity between the two sides.
The Blues were unable to make any sort of impact on their tactically disciplined opponents for whom extreme defender Alan Borg Cole again played a blinder followed by the tireless Niki Lanzon and the intelligent Miguel Zammit.
Sliema’s failure to prise open Neptunes’ labyrinth, including seven extra-man sets, reflected a serious lack of potent play.
By contrast, Neptunes did not lack this quality as was evident at crucial moments when they scored. On the downside the Reds only netted twice from eight numerical advantages, but that did not really matter.
Marco Cuk, shadowed mostly by Steve Camilleri, was once more unable to find the net while the Neptunes free-scoring stalwart helped himself to a hat-trick.
The Blues could not quite stem the tide that was inexorably flowing against them as the Balluta team, as usual using less players, kept them at more than an arm’s length.
What is surprising is the staying power of Neptunes’ core players who were in the water throughout the four sessions.
The result has for all intents and purposes ended Sliema’s very faint hopes of winning the title.
In the opening match Sirens Ritter Sport were made to wait till midway in the third session before they finally pulled clear of Exiles JetFreight.
This was a tension-free match which had both coaches making use of many of their available units.
The northerners conducted the scoreline with their lead alternating between one and two goals except for a momentary 6-3 lead early in the third session.
With the score on 6-5 well into that penultimate session, the St Paul’s Bay side, under the guidance of John Farrugia, scored four consecutive goals to make it 10-5 into the fourth quarter.
After both teams were guilty of missed man-up chances, Exiles managed to score twice to make their defeat look more respectable.
(1-2, 2-3, 2-3, 2-2)
Exiles: I. Bugeja, J. Rizzo Naudi 3, S. Vassallo, D. Pace Lupi, D. Borg Millo, L. Felice, S. Gravina 1, K. Griscti, N. Paris, A. Bianchi 1, G. Ciappara, M. Vukicevic 2, K. Lanzon.
Sirens: N. Grixti, Z. Mizzi 1, S. Mora 4, G. Pace 1, M. Grech 1, I. Riolo, M. Balucci, D. Cutajar, J. Napier 2, J. Sciberras 1, L. Caruana, N. Farrugia, M. Muscat.
Referees: P. Balzan, A. Magnesia.
(0-1, 1-2, 0-2, 2-2)
Sliema: R. Coleiro, J. Gabarretta, E. Aquilina, C. Cluett 1, M. Meli, J. Soler, M. Fenech, T. Sullivan, J. Brownrigg, A. Attard 1, M. Cuk, N. Bugelli 1, J. Gambin.
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon 1, C. Radu 1, M. Cutajar, T. Agius, M. Lanzon, S. Camilleri 3, J. Camilleri 1, J. Abela 1, M. Zammit, B. Lanzon, M. Azzopardi, M. Castillo.
Refs: A. De Raffaele, F. Bragghini.
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