Sliema Wanderers 0\n
Marsaxlokk's unyielding spirit is clearly standing them in good stead.
Going into their second round fixture against champions Sliema Wanderers with no fewer than eight first-squad members sidelined with injuries, the southerners demonstrated why they are suddenly being touted as serious contenders for the championship crown with another committed performance to hold out for a goalless draw.
The two teams' lofty positions in the standings had raised expectations of an absorbing contest but the few fans who braved the icy weather at the Centenary Stadium witnessed a slow-burning contest which produced no goals.
Given the shortage of scoring chances, the draw is likely to be viewed as a fair result, one that keeps both Sliema and Marsaxlokk very much in the title race.
Having been dragged straight into the thick of things after completing his protracted loan move from Birkirkara to Marsaxlokk yesterday morning, Chucks Nwoko made a more-than-valid contribution to his new team's feat in extending their unbeaten run to seven matches.
Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia initially deployed Nwoko as an advanced midfielder.
For Sliema, Nigerian goalkeeper Murphy Akanji was only conspicuous by his absence from the 18-man squad. The onus of defending Sliema's goal fell on Matthew Camilleri.
Edward Aquilina, the Sliema coach, restored Danilo Doncic to the first team at the expense of Orosco Anonam but Joe Brincat, back in the frame after suspension forced him out of the 4-1 defeat of Mosta, featured among the substitutes.
For the second game in succession, Jeffrey Chetcuti was left out of the starting XI but the former Malta defender came on in the second half.
Malta midfielder Claude Mattocks, lately linked with a possible switch to Valletta, also had to watch the match from the dug-out.
The match had only just begun when Marsaxlokk striker Andrè Schembri's grounder from the by-line came off the foot of the post.
Eleven minutes into the game, Nwoko came close to give Marsaxlokk the lead but his backheader from a teasing Steve Wellman free-kick ricocheted off the bar.
It was after 16 minutes of play that Sliema fashioned their first decent chance, Ivan Woods warming Reuben Gauci's hands with an angled shot which the Marsaxlokk netminder saved in two attempts.
Neat footwork from Daniel Bogdanovic wreaked panic among the Marsaxlokk defence as the Sliema striker slipped past Charlò Magro inside the box but his curling attempt flashed against the far post.
After a tentative start, the Wanderers began to surge forward with vigour and purpose. The industry of Stefan Giglio and Roderick Bajada enabled them to seize control in midfield while the sprightly movement of the likes of Bogdanovic and Woods kept the Marsaxlokk defenders on their toes.
Sliema should have nudged ahead after 26 minutes when Giglio supplied the steaming Bogdanovic inside the penalty area but the latter blasted his shot wide of the far post as Magro moved in to shackle his former team-mate.
As Sliema's spell of ascendancy fizzled out, the game degenerated into a scrappy affair although in fairness, Marsaxlokk never resorted to destructive tactics despite taking to this arduous task with depleted resources.
Indeed, the paucity of fast, constructive football for much of the opening half will not have thrilled national coach Dusan Fitzel who was at the stadium to continue his acclimatisation with Maltese football.
Early in the second period, referee Marco Borg incurred the wrath of the Marsaxlokk fans for his decision to book Schembri for simulation when it looked as if the Malta U-21 forward had been the victim of a foul by Ivan Woods.
Eight minutes into the second half, Bogdanovic delivered a swerving free-kick towards the far post but Giglio's headed attempt sailed wide.
Farrugia detailed Nwoko to partner Schembri in attack in the initial stages of the second half as Brazilian Wendell Soares Gomes shifted to midfield.
Marsaxlokk's attack had a more robust look about it with Nwoko chasing and harrying for every ball and Schembri flitting into dangerous positions.
The southerners' assertive start to the second half prompted Aquilina to make a double substitution, Brincat and Chetcuti replacing Doncic and Debono respectively.
Midway into the second half, Marsaxlokk threatened to move in front but Nuno Gomes's header from a Shaun Bajada free-kick was touched onto the post by Camilleri.
As the second half wore on and exhaustion began to take its toll on both sets of players, the game opened up.
Marsaxlokk remained slightly the better team but on most occasions, a poor final touch undermined much of their good build-up work.
Giglio may have snatched a late winner for Sliema but he skewed his shot high and wide from routine distance after receiving from Woods.
Sliema: M. Camilleri-6, A. Muscat-5.5, M. Di Lello-6.5, B. Said-6, D. Debono-5 ('64 J. Chetcuti), N. Turner-5, D. Doncic-5 ('64 J. Brincat), R. Bajada-6.5, I. Woods-6, S. Giglio-7, D. Bogdanovic-6.
Marsaxlokk: R. Gauci-6, C. Carabott-6, M. Licari-6, C. Magro-6.5, S. Wellman-6.5 ('90 M. Caruana), N. Gomes-6.5, T. Templeman-7, S. Bajada-6, C. Nwoko-7.5 ('90 B. Caruana), A. Schembri-7.5, W. Soares Gomes-5.5 ('75 E. Thornton).
Referee: Marco Borg.
Yellow Cards: Templeman; Debono; Di Lello; Schembri; Nwoko.
BoV Player Of The Match: Stefan Giglio (Sliema Wanderers).
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