San Ġiljan beat stubborn Citizens
Matches between Neptunes and Sliema are destined to go to the wire no matter what.
The Blues, enjoying a six-goal lead at the halfway mark, looked set for victory but incredibly lost that advantage for the match to be decided by a last-gasp five-metre throw from Dmitrii Kholod.
Meanwhile, San Ġiljan overcame a stubborn Valletta side to set up a final against Sliema. It was another pulsating clash, another close contest albeit not resolved in extremes. The match went in favour of the team that had more quality, a longer bench, and thus made wider use of their players. But one cannot deny that Valletta’s fighting qualities are second to none and these traits emerge mostly when they come up against San Ġiljan.
Given the last outing between Neptunes and Sliema, no one would have blamed supporters for putting their money on a win for Sliema.
Yet, the way it developed must have surely left a bad taste in both coaches’ mouths.
A stunning last comeback by Neptunes completely obliterated Sliema as the Reds overturned a six-goal deficit matured in the opening two sessions.
Yet, a poor second session display proved fatal for Neptunes, despite a valiant effort in the final sessions.
A high-scoring first session produced a cat-and-mouse affair with Neptunes chasing Sliema to draw level each time they were in arrears, only to fall six goals behind in the second session.
Sliema forged ahead when Benji Cachia prodded in on a man-up as the Blues looked the smarter lot early on with Andrija Prlainovic doubling the lead with a fast break.
Neptunes also made their first man-up with Jake Muscat before Filip Filipovic deceived Cachia to make it a momentary 2-2. Neptunes squandered their second man-up situation and Cachia punished their opponents to put Sliema 3-2 ahead. Filipovic squeezed the ball in via the goalpost to make it 3-3.
The Blues made a flying three-goal start in the second period with a quick-fire double by Kholod and Jayden Cutajar. At this point, Dorian Pisani called a time-out to try and bring sanity into the Reds’ game.
But it was to no avail as Sliema remained firmly in control to go 9-3 ahead with Jerome Gabarretta, Kholod, and Dino Zammit.
Before the match, Nicky Grixti was presented with the Player-of-the-month award for July. This must have boosted his confidence as he blocked Aleksandar Ivovic’s penalty.
But Filipovic made amends for his colleague’s miss to find the net from another five-metre throw. Ivovic was not having a good day for Neptunes. With the Montenegrin player fumbling another shot in front of Grixti, it was taken as a distress signal from the muted Reds’ supporters who could only see their side stumble to successive defeat against their rivals.
Stevie Camilleri made it 9-5 but Gabarretta managed to break the Reds’ man-down block to restore their five-goal cushion.
At this point, the Blues may have been caught between crosswinds of defending their advantage and not forsaking their positive play. But Dejan Savic seemed to hammer home his offensive-minded credo as Sliema went for more with Cutajar and Kholod giving Sliema a 12-5 lead.
Neptunes finally woke up from their slumber as Filipovic, Ivovic and Jordan Camilleri scored in quick succession to reduce the deficit to 12-8 before the start of the fourth quarter.
Ivovic made amends for his early lapses as he found the net at the start of the last session with Sam Gialanze cutting the leeway to just two goals.
In the final quarter, excitement never ceased, especially when Filipovic netted his fifth goal to cut down the Sliema’s lead to 12-11 with over two minutes left.
It stayed like that amid some heart-throbbing moments for both sides. Ivovic levelled but soon after Kholod made 13-12 for Sliema.
Later, Valletta’s perfect lift-off contrasted sharply with that of the Saints who messed up with their first extra-man set and allowed the Citizens to storm to a 4-0 lead inside the opening five minutes with Sebastian Busuttil, Ivan Nagaev (2), and Jayden Cassar. San Ġiljan pulled two back late in the first session.
Darren Zammit netted two lightning goals to edge San Ġiljan ahead for the first time on 6-4. Marko Jokovic and Jeremy Abela gave San Ġiljan further impetus as they opened a 9-7 lead by the halfway mark.
The third session had San Ġiljan increasing their advantage to 12-7, thus thriving home further their superiority. But Valletta were not yet dead when Ivan Nagaev hit his sixth goal to reduce the arrears to just three goals.
Although Joe Cremona had the relative satisfaction of seeing his team net four goals in the next quarter, San Ġiljan’s 14-11 lead before the last session started was too much of a gap for the citizens.
(3-3, 6-1, 3-4, 1-4)
NEPTUNES A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat 1, S. Gialanze 2, G. Pace, M. Castillo, J. Bajada, S. Camilleri 1, J. Camilleri 1, A. Ivovic 2 , F. Filipovic 5, A. Fenech, E. Mallia , M. Rossi, D. Bugeja, A. Fava.
SLIEMA N.Grixti, J. Gabarretta 2, L. Galea, J. Gambin, Z. Mizzi, B. Cachia 3, J. Cutajar 2, M. Mifsud, J. Brownrigg, D. Kholod 4, A. Prlainovic 1, D. Zammit 1, A. Bugeja, E. Schembri, S. Engerer.
Referees Stefano Pinato, Peter Balzan.
SAN ĠILJAN 21
(4-3, 3-6, 4-5, 4-7)
VALLETTA B. Busuttil, J. Spiteri Staines, D. Rizzo 1, J. Cassar 2, S. Busuttil ,1 A. Vlahovic 2, D.Paolella , I. Nagaev 7 , S. Micallef , A. Agius 1, K. Borg 1, K. Cremona, A. Theuma, M. Demarco, J. Chircop .
SAN ĠILJAN J. Tanti, N. Bugelli 2, A. Galea 1, B. Plumpton 1, M. Jokovic 4, M. Zammit 3, J. Bonavia 3, A. Younger 2, J. Abela 1, N. Zammit 2, D. Zammit 2, R. Caruana, G. Borg, G. Bonavia, N. Bonavia.
Referees Attilo Paoletti, Massimo Angileri
(3-4, 4-5, 2-5, 4-5)
OTTERS M. Xerri, M. Bonniċi, K. Scicluna, D. Dimech 1, M. Meli, R. Grosz 4, I. Azzopardi, S. Dimech, L. Dimech 4, J. Saric 2, M. Farrugia, A. Dimech, M. Grech, K. Micallef 1, A. Bianchi.
BIRŻEBBUĠA M. Sladden, P. Borg 3, N. Cassar, B. Grech, D. Brguljan 4, M. Manara 1, S. Bezzina, D. Cutajar 1, B. Erdelyi 7, K. Tanti, G. Mannino, M. Curmi, D. Borg, J. Sciberras 3, D. Farrugia.
Referees Attilio Paoletti, Ronnie Spiteri.
(5-4, 2-1, 4-4, 3-5/17-18 on penalties)
EXILES M. Castillo, Z. Cutajar Licari 1, Z. Micallef, V. Gallo
4, G. Molina, S. Xerri de
Caro, M. Fenech 1, K. Griscti 3, N. Paris, M. Martellacci,
M. Aquilina 4, N. Saliba 1, F. Buhagiar, L. Paris, Roding, L. Pursehouse.
MARSAXLOKK M. Farrugia, M. Lanzon, B. Zammit, M. Farrugia, N. Moskov 8, J. Valletta 1, M. Zammit 1, M. Aquilina, R. Galea, S. Misic 3, J. Borg Tabone, L. Mallia, M. Brimmer, A. Cook 1, S. Mifsud.
Referees Arnaldo Petronili, Alex de Raffaele.
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