Floriana 1
Marsaxlokk 2


A scrappy but battling performance from Marsaxlokk was sufficient to give them a 2-1 victory over the resurgent Floriana last night.

In a match which dramatically but belatedly came to life late in the second half, the southerners traded on their newly-found fighting spirit to gather three precious points which keep them within striking distance of the leading trio.

Marsaxlokk remain second on 30 points, four adrift of the three table-topping teams, namely Sliema Wanderers, Hibernians and Birkirkara.

As for Floriana, they definitely cannot be accused of going down without a fight but a combination of ill-luck, missed chances and Marsaxlokk's never-say-die attitude led to their first defeat after a five-match unbeaten run.

Marsaxlokk could not have enjoyed a better start to the game, surging ahead after barely four minutes.

Their breakthrough originated from a powerful run by their left-sided midfielder Kevin Mamo who had the time and space to deliver a low teasing cross. Simon Agius, the Floriana goalkeeper, flung himself forward to cut out the cross but his failure to grab the ball was pounced on by Andrè Schembri who blasted home from close range.

By way of response, Floriana had an Adrian Mifsud shot which Reuben Gauci, yesterday defending goal against his former team-mates, dealt with easily.

This match was deprived of a host of established players for both teams. Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia and Oliver Spiteri, Marsaxlokk's double coaching act, only named four substitutes as injury robbed them of several first-team players.

Apart from the suspended Portuguese defender Nuno Gomes, Gareth Sciberras, Kevin Sammut, Cesar Paiber and goalkeeper Reuben Debono were ruled out of yesterday's game by injuries.

Jan Artz, the Floriana coach, also had his resources severely stretched by injuries and suspensions. Keith Fabri and Trevor Cilia were forced to miss out after both received bans by the Malta FA while Christian Cassar, Julian Briffa, Manolito Micallef and Joseph Craig Schembri joined long-term injury absentees Clifton Ciantar and Mauro Brincat in the treatment room.

Close to the half hour, Marsaxlokk nearly made it 2-0 but Steve Wellman's venomous free-kick grazed the far post.

Although there was no shortage of commitment from Floriana, their attacking forays in the opening 33 minutes had been meagre.

As Marsaxlokk's game remained strangely bereft of creativity, Floriana plucked up courage, raising their attempts to make more of an impact up front.

On 35 minutes, Marsaxlokk could only partially clear an inswinging corner from Mifsud. The loose ball landed in front of the up-and-coming Christian Caruana but his rising effort flew over the bar.

That was the last meaningful of a largely disappointing first half.

Given the dismal fare put up by the two teams, both coaches are likely to have urged their players to step up their game in the second half.

Farrugia's pep-talk looked to have had an instant effect going by the renewed urgency displayed by his charges in the opening stages of the second period.

Four minutes after the restart, Cleaven Frendo, yesterday deployed in a midfield position in Marsaxlokk's 3-5-2 formation, mustered a dangerous shot which was repelled by Agius.

Moments later, the Floriana goalkeeper repeated his act when pushing away a drive from Malcolm Licari, a hard-working performer on Marsaxlokk's right flank.

By and large, the game remained dull and abysmally short on quality football. Midway through the second half, Gauci, the Marsaxlokk goalkeeper, did well to palm Ian Ciantar's swerving cross-shot away for a corner.

A rare piece of artistry from Schembri threatened to procure a goal for Marsaxlokk. The young striker deftly breezed past Riad-Mynel Gango-Rtsa and sped into the area but his conclusion sailed wide.

A quick one-two between Mifsud, a committed leader of Floriana's forward line yesterday, and the incoming Ryan Darmanin ended with the latter directing a powerful but seemingly harmless shot. Gauci dived to block but as the ball slipped his grasp, he appeared to raise a leg to unbalance Anthony EviParker who was chasing the rebound.

Referee Clayton Pisani pointed to the spot and Mifsud beat Gauci with an exquisite chip.

The manner of Floriana's equaliser, on 69 minutes, did not go down well with the Marsaxlokk fans but within two minutes, the natives of Malta's famous fishing village were making noise for the right reasons.

A dipping free-kick by Frendo from near the right touchline, sailed dangerous towards the goalmouth where Schembri leapt to guide the ball past Agius.

The game became much more interesting with the two sides roaring forward with fresh purpose in search of more goals.

The Greens were unlucky not to reclaim parity when Mifsud's perfectly-weighted free-kick crashed against the inside of the far post.

In no time, Floriana threatened again, Christian Caruana's deflected effort from inside the penalty area landing on top of the crossbar.

Eleven minutes from the end of regulation time, Gauci went some way to making amends for his previous mistake when he somehow kept out a point-blank shot from Darmanin who was unmarked in the centre of the penalty area.

Floriana: S. Agius-7, I. Ciantar-6.5, I. Azzopardi-6, A. Mifsud-7, R. M. Gango-Rtsa-6, J. Brincat-6 ('57 M. Gauci-5), C. Caruana-7 ('79 A. Buhagiar), A. Eviparker-5.5, N. Baldacchino-5.5 ('66 R. Darmanin), K. Formosa-5.5, M. Caruana-6.

Marsaxlokk: R. Gauci-5.5, C. Magro-6, S. Wellman-6, T. Templeman-6, C. Mamo-6, C. Frendo-6, A. Schembri-7.5, W. Soares Gomes-5.5, J. Pace-6 ('57 S. Bajada-5.5), K. Mamo-6, M. Licari-6.5.

Referee: Clayton Pisani.

Scorers: Schembri 4, 71; Mifsud 69 Pen.

Yellow Cards: Ciantar; Templeman; Mamo; Caruana; Frendo.

BoV Player Of The Match: Andrè Schembri (Marsaxlokk).

Next Fixtures

(National Stadium)
2 p.m. Valletta vs Pietà
4 p.m. Hamrun vs Birkirkara.

(Hibs Ground)
12.45 p.m. Mosta vs Floriana
2.45 p.m. Sliema vs Marsaxlokk.

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