Sliema surprised a vulnerable Neptunes side, who sorely felt the absence of Filip Filipovic, as the Blues boosted their hopes of putting themselves back in contention for the Premier Division title this season.
Never mind the absence of this important cog in the Neptunes team but Dorian Pisani’s side were a pale shadow of the team that salvaged the game against San Ġiljan a few days ago.
Snuffing the Reds’ ineffective attack, Sliema made their opponents eat humble pie when they went into the fourth session with an unexpectedly comfortable 9-4 scoreline. It was only in the last session that the Reds woke up to their responsibilities to make the final result more respectable.
The predatory scoring skills of Steve Camilleri, who netted just once in the final session, were not as evident as usual but then his role for a team with a fragile tail was more bent on providing the playmaking. Aleksander Ivovic also had a below-par performance.
In the initial session, Sliema nosed ahead repeatedly but Neptunes replied every time to finish the first quarter level at 3-3.
Dimitri Kholod grabbed the first opportunity to give Sliema the lead. Alec Fenech did not miss on the Reds’ extra-man only for Liam Galea to give Sliema a 2-1 advantage. Gabriel Pace scored but Jayden Cutajar made it 3-2. Aleksandar Ivovic equalised from a penalty in a mouth-watering opening session.
Sliema thought that they got the upperhand in the second quarter when early goals from Galea, Andrija Prlainovic, and Kholod gave the Blues a three-goal cushion lead.
However, the Reds fought back bravely to net twice through their youngsters, Jake Muscat and Sam Gialanze.
Two quick goals by Dino Zammit restored Sliema’s three-goal lead in the third session.
Sliema were almost made to pay for their profligacy when in front of Alan Borg Cole, Zach Mizzi shot straight at the Neptunes’ custodian.
However, Ivovic’s goal was annulled on a suspicious two-metre infringement.
Despite losing Prlainovic and left-hander Jayden Cutajar, both fouled out, Kholod made it 9-5.
At this point, Sliema may have been caught between crosswinds of administering their four-goal cushion.
A more flexible tactical approach had Neptunes whittling down the gap to 10-8 through goals by Ivovic, Gialanze, and Camilleri. With the round on the clock, Ivovic made the impossible when he shot wide to end Neptunes’ flailing hopes.
After the match a very nervous Steve Camilleri kept arguing with the table and the anti-doping official, saying that he was hand-picked to perform the test. In the end, he did the drug test but under protest.
In the other Premier Division match, Sirens took sweet revenge for their cross-over defeat against Valletta when laying low the Citizens’ colours 17-14.
This time, Sirens’ tactical game helped them steal an early march in the battle of playoff contenders. If Marco Orolovic’s side can maintain the same level of determination and killer instinct shown yesterday, they could really be prime contenders for the fourth and final berth in the playoffs.
Sirens turned out to be the better team on the day as their fast swimming and sharp shooting made all the difference on the day.
It was a surprise result as the northerners surprised the Citizens who could have lost by a huge margin.
Valletta made the result more respectable in the last session when Ivan Nagaev helped Valletta win the session 5-2.
In the end, Nagaev scored eight goals and finished top scorer.
But sniffing Valletta’s otherwise ineffective attack, Sirens made their opponents eat humble pie when they thrashed them in the first three sessions.
The duel between Marsaxlokk and Exiles was a perfect example of how fortunes shift in waterpolo.
It was one team and then the other to forge ahead with Exiles eventually looking likely to grab the points after taking a 13-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
But they frittered that advantage after losing their chief marksman Valentino Gallo for protests.
Meanwhile, Marsaxlokk pulled back three goals and eventually made it 14-all with few seconds to go. Sasa Misic made it 15-14 for Marsaxlokk.
(3-3, 2-3, 0-3, 3-1)
A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat 1, S. Gialanze 2, G. Pace 1, M. Castillo, J. Bajada, S. Camilleri 1, A. Ivovic 2, A. Fenech 1, E. Mallia, M. Rossi, D. Bugeja.
N. Grixti, J. Gabaretta, L. Galea 2, J. Gambin, Z. Mizzi, B. Cachia, J. Cutajar 1, M. Mifsud, J. Brownrigg 1, D. Kholod 3, A. Prlainovic 1, D. Zammit 1, A. Bugeja, E. Schembri.
Refs: Alex DeRaffaele, Alessandro Severo.
(4-1, 3-5, 3-7, 5-1)
Miguel Farrugia, C. Cutajar, M. Lanzon, Max Farrugia, N. Moskov 5, J. Valletta 1, M. Zammit, M. Aquilina, R. Galea, S. Misic , E. Bonnici, L. Mallia 2, S. Mifsud, A. Cook 2, J. Borg Tabone.
M. Castillo, Z. Cutajar Licari, Z .Micallef, V. Gallo 5, G. Mollina 2, S. Xerri de Caro 1, M. Fenech, K. Griscti 5, N. Paris, M. Martellacci 1, M. Aquilina, N. Saliba, F. Buhagiar, M. Paris Roding, L. Pursehouse.5
Refs: Peter Balzan, Alessandro Severo.
(3-6, 3-5, 2-4, 5-2)
B. Busuttil, J. Spiteri Staines, D. Rizzo, J. Cassar 1, S. Busuttil, A. Vlahovic 4, D. Paolella, I. Nagaev 8, S. Micallef, A. Agius, K. Borg, K. Cremona, A. Theuma, M. Demarco 1, J. Chircop.
SIRENS T. Micallef, P. Serracino, K. Erdogan, P. Figlioli 4, J. Zerafa Gregory 1, G. Farrugia 2, M. Chircop, G. Mellilo 3, M. Cutajar, M. Pasztor 3, M. Sciberras 1, M. Azzopardi 1, M. Bonello Dupius, J. Cachia 1, G. Sammut 1.
Refs: Ronnie Spiteri, Michele Alessandroni.
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