The curtains were brought down on the second phase of the Premier Division yesterday with San Ġiljan surprising Neptunes to topple them off the perch and leave them second in the table.
The Reds will thus contest the best-of-three play-off against rivals Sliema as San Ġiljan meet Sirens.
All credit to San Ġiljan and their coach Zeljko Kovacic for infusing life and determination in a team on the receiving end of Neptunes’ brisk opening, who were in complete control until the third session.
The Reds took a 3-2 lead in the first session with San Ġiljan hitting back twice to level the score before Steven Camilleri edged his side ahead at the end of the first quarter.
With Neptunes pulling the strings and the Saints in pause/play mode, Gabriel Pace made it 4-2 off a great cross pass by Jeremy Abela.
San Ġiljan could not shrug off their uneasiness and Neptunes’ gritty resistance made life difficult.
The Saints could have levelled the score when they were 4-3 down with just over two minutes left in the second session but Alec Fenech netted for a 5-3 advantage with an angled shot, just after Steven Camilleri failed to score from a five-metre throw.
Neptunes seemed to be cruising but to complicate matters Jake Muscat missed a second penalty.
However, San Ġiljan fought back.
In a high-scoring third session, San Ġiljan first pulled back the deficit and went ahead for the first time with Nicholas Bugelli on 6-5.
Then the Saints took the lead two times, but the Reds drew level every time before they nosed 8-7 ahead with a great shot by Russell Caruana.
Nikolai Zammit, impeccable from the five-metre throw, made three out of three before Abela cut the leeway to one goal again.
Zammit completed his poker as Alec Fenech scored again with another great shot.
It was end to end excitement till the end and San Ġiljan coach Kovacic called out a time-out twice in the last 30 seconds to try and bring sanity into the Saints’ game after Ben Plumpton missed an open chance in front of Alan Borg Cole.
It worked wonder as Matthew Zammit made it 11-9.
Earlier, bottom-side Exiles finally broke their duck points-wise when they beat Birżebbuġa 15-7, a victory which brought their season to a flourishing finale and at the same time denied Pierre Borg’s team the possibility to join Sirens in fourth spot.
A 7-4 lead midway through, with two goals coming from Mark Fenech was a justified advantage for Exiles.
They pulled further away in the third session to open a 11-6 gap before easing away in the final quarter as Fenech completed his hat-trick.
With the principal target being the top berth of the First Division, Marsascala upped their game to jolt Valletta from the leading position.
Marsascala were always in the driving seat and led by two goals throughout after taking an early double advantage courtesy of Gerald Sammut and Kyle Navarro.
A below-par Valletta seemed rattled under the uncompromising press and solid cover at the back by Marsascala.
From the third session onwards, it was an easier ride for the southseasiders for whom Navarro and Sammut scored two goals each.
SAN ĠILJAN 11
(3-2, 2-1, 2-5, 2-3)
NEPTUNES: A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat, S. Gialanze 1, G. Pace 1, J. Cachia, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri 3, J. Camilleri, J. Abela 2, M. Spiteri Staines, A. Fenech 2, M. Castillo, M. Rossi, M. Farrugia.
SAN ĠILJAN: J. Tanti, P. Borg, A. Galea 1, N. Schiavone, R. Caruana 1, M. Zammit 1, B. Plumpton 2, D. Tully, J. Bonavia, N. Zammit 4, D. Zammit 1, N. Bugelli 1, G Vassallo, M Ortoleva, D. Fero.
Refs; M. Schiavo, P. Balzan.
(0-2, 2-2, 1-1, 0-2)
VALLETTA: B. Busuttil, N. Farrugia, M. Pace, L. Hyzler, S. Busuttil 1, Z. Micallef, D. Paolella, J. Culic, S. Micallef, A. Agius 1, K. Galea, K. Cremona, A. Bugeja, L. Felice 1, R. Attard.
MARSASKALA: J. Micallef, J.C. Cutajar 1, A. Camenzuli, P. Privitera, R. Greco, G. Galea, K. Navarro 2, M. Manara 1, D. Pace Lupi, G. Sammut 2, J. Ciantar, M. Carani 1, A. Muscat, F, Scardino, L. Falzon.
Refs; D. Mazzoccoli, N. Mercieca.
(1-4, 3-3, 2-4, 1-4)
BIRŻEBBUĠA: M. Vassallo, J. Farrugia 1, N. Cassar 1, B. Grech 1, C. Mifsud 1, R. Mock, N. Fenech, D. Cutajar, D. Farrugia, K. Tanti 2, S. Bezzina, M. Curmi, M. Sladden, D. Incorvaja, G. Sammut 1.
EXILES: M. Castillo, N. Saliba 1, L. Gialanze 2, P. Paris 1, T. Sullivan, S. Xerri de Caro 1, M. Fenech 3, K. Griscti 1, N. Paris 2, J. Bajada 1, M. Aquilina 1, D. Fenech, G. Borg, M. Martellacci 1, L. Pursehouse 1.
Refs: M. Schiavo, M. Angileri.
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