The opening match of the Nationa League preliminary round regaled an exciting contest which ended with Birżebbuġia pipping their rivals Valletta 7-6, a result which could leave a huge bearing on both teams’ aspirations to clinch a berth in the Premier League.
Birżebbuġa had an edge in striking ability in the opening sessions but Valletta, this year led by Joe Cremona, produced a commendable comeback in the third session to finish the session within reach of an all-important equaliser.
Eventually, Pierre Borg’s team held out… but only just.
The opening session was marked by a dearth of goals with the only conversion coming from Keith Tanti.
Birżebbuġia took a deserved 3-1 lead before the change of ends with their goals coming from Ryan Mock and David Cutajar.
Five goals were netted in the second quarter with Valletta at one point taking a 4-3 lead through Andrea Agius (2) and Stephen Micallef.
Giuseppe Mannino netted at the crucial late moment in the third session to make it 5-4 for Birżebbuġa.
The last session was touch and go as the match remained hanging on knife-edge before Keith Tanti netted the all important goal to give Birżebbuġia a precious win.
In the second match, San Ġiljan were complete masters, scoring an emphatic 21-6 victory over Marsaxlokk.
A victory for the superior Saints was a forgone conclusion and there was only one team in it, with the hapless Marsaxlokk conceding a deluge of goals.
Marsaxlokk are effectively a Neptunes ‘B’ team, made up of youth players from the Balluta side under the helm of nursery coach Nenad Navarin.
The Saint’s 10-2 buffer at the halfway mark was not enough to induce Zeljko Kovacic to introduce the less-experienced tailenders in his squad before the last session.
In the last quarter, if anything, San Ġiljan’s changes helped Marsaxlokk to limit the damage after the Saints edged the southseasiders 4-3 in the last seven minutes.
In the last match, Exiles piled up the goals against returning Barracudas in a match which they dominated from start to finish as they cantered to a 19-4 victory.
Most of the Exiles goals came from David Fenech with four, and Max Aquilina and Kurt Griscti with three strikes each.
(0-1, 1-2, 3-2, 2-2)
B. Busuttil, N. Farrugia, M. Pace, L. Hyzler, S. Busuttil 1, Z. Micallef, D. Paolella 1, M. Mifsud, S. Micallef 1, A. Agius 3, K. Galea, J. Culic, A. Bugeja.
M. Vassallo, J. Farrugia, N. Cassar, B. Grech, C. Mifsud, R. Mock 1, D. Cutajar 2, K. Tanti 2, G. Mannino 1, M. Curmi, M. Sladden, G. Sammut 1.
Refs: S. Licari, M. Alessandroni.
SAN ĠILJAN 21
(2-7, 0-3, 1-7, 3-4)
S. Mifsud, R. Spiteri, C. Cutajar, B. Zammit, D. Cordina, D. Bugeja, M. Zammit 2, L. Mallia, L. Saliba, R. Galea 3, J. Valletta, A. Cook 1, M. Farrugia.
J. Tanti, P. Borg 3, A. Galea 4, N. Schiavone, R. Caruana, M. Zammit 5, B. Plumpton 3, D. Tully, J Bonavia, N. Zammit 1, D. Zammit 1, N. Bugelli 1, G. Vassallo, M. Ortoleva 2, R. Caruana 1.
Refs: A. Carrer, R. Magri.
(4-0, 4-0, 6-2, 5-2)
M. Castillo, N. Saliba 1, L. Gialanze 1, P. Paris, T. Sullivan 1, S. Xerri de Caro, M. Fenech 2, K. Griscti 3, N. Paris, J. Bajada 2, M. Aquilina 3, D. Fenech 4, G. Borg. M. Martellacci 1, L. Pursehouse 1.
M. Gouder, A. Piccione, A. Magri 1, P. Micallef, D. Ciantar, R. Sciortino 1, S. Aquilina, L. Galea, D. Camilleri, S. Camilleri, J. Bugeja, TJ. Mifsud 1, C. Bugeja, N. Camenzuli 1.
Refs: M. Alessandroni, P. Balzan.
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