Neptunes took some time to shake off Sliema’s challenge and could only pull away in the final part of the match with skipper Niki Lanzon bagging three crucial goals to help his team land a record 10th Winter League title.
Nevertheless, it was a close contest with the Balluta team the better starters when taking a three-goal lead at the end of the first session but Sliema hit back to go 9-8 in front at the end of the third quarter.
Neptunes went out of the blocks in a decisive fashion boosted by Jeremy Abela’s hat-trick to take a 5-2 lead by the end of the opening session.
The Reds’ edge was clear but the Blues fought back to level at five-all when Jerome Gabarretta converted twice from the right.
Sliema’s Miguel Vassallo effected an excellent block on Jake Muscat but conceded a soft goal on Niki Lanzon soon after, as Neptunes went ahead 6-5 before ends were changed.
It remained a very close affair as Sliema responded every time their opponents took a one-goal lead in the third session.
Nikolai Zammit gave Neptunes a two-goal advantage on 8-6 before the impressive Benji Cachia scored to cut the leeway midway through the third session.
Mark Meli equalised before Michael Spiteri Staines helped the Blues take the advantage for the first time at the end of an eventful third session.
With the last session starting on a 9-8 scoreline in Sliema’s favour, everything was to be played for but that late surge helped Neptunes to register a hard-fought victory despite the four-goal winning margin.
Earlier, Birżebbuġa all but strolled past Marsascala to retain the Winter League title for Division One teams.
The southerners owe their 10-4 victory to a good opening base which helped them take a 5-1 lead before the change of ends, after which they kept their opponents at bay.
Birżebbuġa, for whom David Pace Lupi and Christian Mifsud scored three goal apiece, cruised to victory, winning their third quarter 3-1.
Marsascala made a reaction towards the end of the last session. But at that juncture, Birżebbuġa’s success had long been hammered home.
NEPTUNES LEO VEGAS 13
SLIEMA FRANK SALT 9
(5-2, 1-3, 2-4, 5-0)
NEPTUNES: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon 5, K. Erdogan, G. Pace, V. Ragone, J. Farrugia, J. Muscat 1, S. Busuttil, J. Abela 4, N. Zammit 1, S. Stellini, M. Azzopardi 2, B. Busuttil.
SLIEMA: M. Vassallo, J. Gabarretta 2, L. Galea, J. Sciberras 1, M. Meli 1, B. Cachia 3, M. Spiteri Staines 2, C. Cutajar, M. Cordina, D. Rizzo, Z. Mizzi, N. Bugelli, J. Sammut.
Refs: P. Balzan, M. Dalli.
BIRŻEBBUĠA FREEPORT 10
(3-1, 2-0, 3-1, 2-2)
BIRŻEBBUĠA: D. Spiteri, Z. Farrugia Seychell, N. Cassar, D. Pace Lupi 3, C. Mifsud 3, R. Spiteri, S. Vassallo 1, D. Cutajar 2, J. Bajada, M. Cutajar 1, M. Borg, L. Borg, A. Bugeja.
MARSASKALA: J. Micallef, JC. Cutajar 1, A. Camenzuli 1, M. Manara, M. Aquilina, L. Grixti 1, K. Navarro, L. Felice 1, J. Buhagiar, J. Culic, R. Attard, D. Borg Millo, M. Borg.
Refs: R. Spiteri, M. Angilleri.
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