A determined Sliema Frank Salt Real Estate fought all the way yesterday morning to edge San Ġiljan 7-6 and in so doing force a decider, scheduled for Wednesday, to determine the destination of this year’s winter title.
The first match between the sides had ended in a win for San Ġiljan 8-5, with the Blues’ victory necessitating a play-off since pre-season competition rules stipulated that goal difference in case of parity in the head-to-head duels would not be taken into consideration.
As expected this was a tight contest which had both sets of players employing a rigid, almost all-pitch press, with strong-arm tactics also surfacing most of the time.
Except for brief periods in the second quarter Sliema led all the way, opening a two-goal lead on two occasions. Their tightly-knit rearguard allowed their opponents only a brief sight of goal.
However, Matthew Zammit’s explosive qualities did the damage early on, once with an excellent goal which gave the Saints a 4-3 lead.
Sliema, through John Soler, twice courtesy of Edward Aquilina, followed by strikes from Mark Meli and Jerome Gabarretta, took a 5-4 lead at the halfway stage after goals from Dino Zammit and Clint Mercieca were netted in between Matthew Zammit’s brace.
Kai Dowling, Peter Borg, Alex Attard and again Dino Zammit alternated goals in the third part of the game to make it 7-6 for Sliema at the end of the third session.
Although there were no more conversions in the final eight minutes, the excitement grew to a crescendo as the Saints threatened to score an equaliser. Sliema held on with grit and very shrewd covering amid several decisions by the referees which drew some instinctive dissent from both factions.
However, in the end the referees’ control was admirable and evened out matters in what turned out to be a difficult match given the prevailing balance and the issue at stake.
Earlier, a first session 5-1 advantage for Valletta McDonald’s proved to be too big for Sirens Ritter Sport to bridge, with the St Paul’s Bay team having to succumb 8-6 to superior opponents who have thus sealed the fourth spot in the table.
That storming start had the City team doing everything right against the fumbling northerners who could only manage to reduce the deficit but never to redress the imbalance despite Valletta having three men excluded with substitution in the latter sessions.
(5-1, 2-1, 1-3, 0-1)
Valletta: R. Sciortino, J. Spiteri Staines 2, A. Agius, M. Rizzo 1, A. Mifsud, R. Mock 2, D. Paolella, N. Bonello Ghio, M. Cordina, C. Zammit 2, A. Zarb Cousin, D. Spiteri, J. Spiteri Staines 1.
Sirens: N. Grixti, Z. Mizzi 1, E. Meli, G. Pace 1, M. Grech 1, J. Zerafa Gregory, M. Balucci, D. Cutajar 1, J. Napier, J. Sciberras 1, l. Caruana 1, I. Riolo, N. Farrugia.
Referees: A. De Raffaele, M. Dalli.
San Ġiljan 6
(1-2, 3-3, 2-2, 0-0)
San Ġiljan: J. Sammut, P. Borg 1, A. Galea, J. Galea, Darren Zammit, M. Zammit 2, K. Galea, C. Mercieca 1, B. Plumpton, A. Cousin, P. Fava, Dino Zammit 2, D. Camilleri.
Sliema: R. Coleiro, J. Gabarretta 1, E. Aquilina 2, C. Cluett, M. Meli 1, J. Soler 1, M. Fenech, T. Sullivan, J. Brownrigg, A. Attard 1, K. Dowling 1, N. Bugelli, Z. Sciberras.
Referees: M. Dalli, A. Goncharenko.
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