It may not have been time for full scale celebrations by Neptunes Grimaldi fans yesterday but it was certainly an occasion for felicitations.
The Reds’ 14-9 victory over Sliema Betsson sealed their 24th championship title, their sixth in seven years after five successive crowns between 2010 and 2014.
It was the first of two port of calls, with their ship entering triumphantly amid the cheering of their supporters after wresting the title from San Ġiljan.
Pre-season expectations did not suggest that the Balluta Bay team could strike league success as the squad was thin after some notable defections at the end of last season.
However, under the guidance of their head coach, Zoran Maslovar, and his assistant, Igor Martinovic, the team, led by their established core players, played with aplomb, discipline and not a little resilience to outdistance outgoing champions, San Ġiljan and all other opponents.
These qualities were never so evident as last night when they dismissed Sliema who had Mark Meli, John Brownrigg and Timmy Sullivan missing, with Jerome Gabarretta and Nicholas Bugelli back on duty.
The formbook indicated that the Reds had enough guns and guile to beat their rivals as was evident when the Blues confronted the Reds with a full squad in earlier matches.
Neptunes had Jordan Camilleri, scorer of a nap-hand, in excellent striking mood, with their rising star Jeremy Abela hitting a hat-trick.
All in all, it was a solid performance, with playmaker Steve Camilleri master of all he surveyed, alongside Niki Lanzon, two-goal Timmy Agius and the reliable Miguel Zammit combining well.
After going momentarily be-hind, Neptunes procured a three-goal buffer from the second session onwards which was in the end widened to five goals as their staying power could not be matched by their opponents.
The Blues were found wanting in their open play never mind having an impeccable three on three reading on extra-man sets.
Neptunes’ one on six did not matter much as they had stealthily inflicted the damage even before Alex Attard was excluded with substitution towards the end of the third quarter.
The Reds had always looked a superior lot.
Earlier, Sirens Ritter Sport ensured that the fourth place in the league standings remained their own after having the better of Valletta McDonald’s 10-9.
Following a mundane start, during which the Northerners had to constantly chase a one-goal deficit until the sides were locked on four goals apiece, Sirens took a 6-5 advantage midway through which was extended to 8-5 in the third quarter.
Valletta fought back to level the scores but John Farrugia’s team responded with a brace to make it 10-8 before the City team trimmed the deficit to 10-9.
Sergi Mora, who was locked in battle with Dmitri Kholod, scored four goals for Sirens while Ryan Mock played his best game of the season to strike a hat-trick.
(4-2, 5-4, 1-2, 4-1)
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon, C. Radu 2, M. Cutajar, T. Agius 2, M. Lanzon, S. Camilleri 2, J. Camilleri 5, J. Abela 3, M. Zammit, B. Lanzon, M. Azzopardi, M. Castillo.
Sliema: R. Coleiro, J. Gabarretta 2, E. Aquilina 2, C. Cluett 1, K. Dowling 1, J. Soler, M. Fenech, J. Gambin, L. Galea, A. Attard 1, M. Cuk 2, N. Bugelli, M. Muscat.
Referees: P. Balzan and C. Collantoni.
(2-2, 3-4, 1-2, 3-2)
Valletta: R. Sciortino, J. Spiteri Staines, A. Agius 1, M. Rizzo, A. Mifsud, R. Mock 3, D. Paolella 1, N. Bonello Ghio, M. Cordina 1, C. Zammit, D. Kholod 2, A. Zarb Cousin, M. Spiteri Staines 1.
Sirens: N. Grixti, Z. Mizzi 2, S. Mora 4, G. Pace 1, M. Grech 1, I. Riolo, M. Balucci, D. Cutajar, J. Napier 1, J. Sciberras, L. Caruana 1, M. Pullicino, M. Muscat.
Referees: M. Dalli and S. Scap-pini.