Sliema Wanderers 1
Marsaxlokk recorded their first victory over Sliema Wanderers thanks to a stirring second-half comeback in an ill-tempered match at the Hibernians Ground yesterday.
The result moved the southerners up to second place, equal on 20 points with Sliema who look to have suffered a hammer blow in their quest for a fourth consecutive championship crown.
The first half was shorn of goalmouth action although Sliema stormed into an early lead. As the game wore on, play was restricted to midfield with both sides failing to create any clearcut opportunities.
After the interval, Marsaxlokk were a transformed team as the relentless running of Kevin Sammut and the defiance of Nuno Dos Santos Gomes paid dividends with two well-taken goals either side of the hour.
Under the leadership of Ray Farrugia and Oliver Spiteri, Marsaxlokk have indeed become a force to be reckoned with in the top flight and yesterday's result reinforces their potential as championship contenders.
Utility player Trevor Templeman was absent for Marsaxlokk as he is recovering from a serious ankle injury he suffered in a friendly match the weekend before last.
For Sliema, Danilo Doncic was asked to partner Daniel Bogdanovic in attack with Ivan Woods deployed as an offensive midfielder.
This move provided the right tonic for Sliema coach Edward Aquilina as his team forged ahead at the first time of asking on 17 minutes. Former Marsaxlokk skipper David Carabott, yesterday preferred to Alex Muscat on the right, sent in a corner and Serbian veteran Doncic was on hand to head superbly into the net.
The rest of the opening half was dogged by a string of unorthodox challenges which had referee Marco Borg brandishing the yellow card on a number of occasions.
Five minutes from the end of the first half, Marsaxlokk created a good chance when Andrè Schembri lofted the ball towards the far end of the penalty area where the unmarked Carlo Mamo unleashed a venomous shot that missed the target. On the stroke of half-time, the ardent Marsaxlokk fans were up on their feet when Steve Wellman passed to Cleaven Frendo. The Marsaxlokk striker controlled the ball well but his effort was pushed away by Murphy Akanji, the Sliema goalkeeper.
Farrugia must have used persuasive words in his half-time talk as his players were a sprightly lot when they took the field for the second half.
Their improved display paid off just shy of the hour mark. The Sliema defenders failed to clear Jamie Pace's menacing cross as Schembri nipped in to strike a low shot towards goal. Akanji managed to save partially but Dos Santos Gomes took his chance well by towering into the air to head home from close range.
Three minutes later, the southerners nosed ahead. Converter turned provider as Dos Santos Gomes slipped the ball towards Frendo on the right and the latter was quick to serve Sammut in the centre of the penalty area. The former Sliema midfielder finished the move with style, drilling a low shot into the net.
In the goal celebrations that ensued, Sammut did well to resist the temptation of taking off his shirt, an offence that would have led to his dismissal as he had already been cautioned earlier in the match.
Sliema's coaches Aquilina and Hugh Caruana opted to introduce Roderick Bajada in lieu of Bogdanovic on 65 minutes. The Sliema striker was clearly incensed with the decision and headed straight to the dressing rooms.
Close to the final quarter, Marsaxlokk had custodian Gauci to thank for preserving their lead. The former Floriana goalkeeper made an excellent save from a close-range shot from the hard-working Doncic.
Five minutes from time, the southerners could have made sure of victory. Frendo powered his way to the edge of the penalty area and freed Schembri who tried to beat Akanji with a well-placed shot but the ball sailed over the crossbar, much to the frustration of substitute Wendell Gomes who was completely unmarked.
With the four minutes of stoppage time almost up, Sliema won a free-kick on the edge of the box. Substitute Bajada did well to serve the ball deep into the penalty area but Joe Brincat's header failed to find the target as Marsaxlokk celebrated an important victory.
Marsaxlokk: R. Gauci-7, M. Licari-7, C. Mamo-7, C. Magro-6.5, S. Wellman-6.5, N. M. Dos Santos Gomes-8, J. Pace-7.5, C. Nwoko-6.5, K. Sammut-7.5 ('79 W. Soares Gomes), C. Frendo-7 ('88 S. Bajada), A. Schembri-7.
Sliema: M. Akanji-7, J. Brincat-6.5, M. Di Lello-7, B. Said-6.5, N. Turner-6.5, D. Doncic-7.5, J. Chetcuti-6.5, I. Woods-6.5, D. Carabott-6.5 ('72 A. Muscat-5), S. Giglio-7, D. Bogdanovic-6.5 ('65 R. Bajada-6).
Referee: Marco Borg.
Scorers: Doncic 17; Dos Santos Gomes 59; Sammut 62.
Yellow Cards: Dos Santos Gomes; Mamo; Chetcuti; Carabott; Sammut; Frendo.
BoV Player Of The Match: Kevin Sammut (Marsaxlokk).
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