Neptunes eliminate Valletta
San Ġiljan roared into the Premier Division final when they punished an erratic Sliema ASC 14-11 to set up a final showdown against Neptunes next week.
Meeting the Blues just a few days after defeating them in the Knock Out final, the Saints were at their clinical best.
After seeing an early advantage cancelled out by Sliema, San Ġiljan showed all the attributes of champions when they exposed their opponents’ sloppiness in front of goal when they netted four goals without reply in the third session to take a commanding lead which they maintained in the end.
Their reward is a showdown with their nemesis Neptunes, with the first match scheduled for Monday.
Here the Saints will be seeking to retain their domestic crown for a second successive season and complete a clean sweep of honours after also lifting the President’s Cup, the Enemed Cup and the Winter League.
As expected, the match turned out to be a tight affair decided by tight margins.
Aaron Younger put San Ġiljan ahead with a spectacular strike to somewhat punish Sliema’s profligacy in front of goal.
Nicholas Bugelli doubled the Saints’ lead with a thumping drive. Younger could have further punished the Blues from the penalty spot but his shot cannoned off the bar.
The margin increased to three goals at the start of the third session with Maro Jokovic converting a penalty as Sliema were struggling to find a way past Jake Tanti.
John Brownrigg finally took Sliema off the mark to bridge the gap to 3-1 but Nikolai Zammit soon restored his team’s three-goal lead with a fine strike.
Liam Galea netted Sliema’s second of the match with a good lob but Plumpton grabbed San Ġiljan’s fourth after a good transition play.
Jerome Gabaretta reignited Sliema’s hopes with a fine back-hand strike to make it 5-3 but Younger soon grabbed another for San Ġiljan after a swift move.
Sliema finally converted their first man-up set through Benji Cachia before Dimitri Kholod converted an excellent counter-attack to take Sliema just one goal behind at the interval.
Sliema enjoyed a bright start to the third session as Kholod pulled them level with a firm strike.
San Ġiljan soon responded with Jokovic putting them back in front from a man-up set.
The match was now evenly-poised with Cachia firing home from a numerical advantage situation – 7-7.
Kholod missed a golden chance from a man-up set and for that Sliema were punished as Zammit lobbed home for a San Ġiljan 8-7 advantage.
Sliema looked to be wilting as San Ġiljan managed to score four goals without reply to take a commanding 12-7 lead with just one session to go.
Nikolai Zammit further extended San Ġiljan’s lead early in the third session with Matthew Mifsud trying to reignite Sliema’s hopes with a fine strike at the other end before Kholod made it 13-9.
Cachia completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot and Kholod made it a three-goal game but that was too little too late as San Ġiljan were long home and dry as they cruised to another final.
Earlier, Neptunes broke little sweat to brush aside Valletta in the day’s opening match as the Balluta Bay team’s scoring prowess was too much for the City club to complete a 2-0 series win.
The first session saw Valletta try to match the superior qualities of Neptunes and to their merit the Citizens put on a stirring fight as the two teams shared the opening four goals with Aleksandar Ivovic and Jordan Camilleri on the mark for the Reds while Ivan Nagaev and Kieyan Borg found the net for Valletta.
But gradually, Neptunes started to show their attacking prowess, scoring four times through Ivovic (2), Filip Filipovic and Stevie Camilleri, with the Citizens somewhat staying in the match with goals from Daniel Rizzo and Nagaev.
The second session saw Neptunes push on the accelerator and the Camilleri siblings, Stevie and Jordan racking four goals without reply to move 11-4 clear. Nagaev temporarily stopped the rot but Sam Engerer scored a fine strike from a close angle to make it 11-5.
Neptunes kept pushing and further strikes from Alec Fenech and Stevie Camilleri saw the Balluta Bay team coasting 14-5 ahead when ends were changed.
Valletta were determined to bridge the gap in the third quarter with Nagaev and Vlahovic soon on the mark but Neptunes always kept them at an arms’ distance with Filipovic and Jayden Cassar preserving their team’s seven-goal buffer.
Goals from Filipovic and Jake Muscat put Neptunes nine clear – 18-9 – with one session to go.
The final session had little to offer other than for scoring statistics with Fenech standing out with a well-taken brace and Andreas Fava scoring with an exquisite lob as the Reds coasted to the Premier Division final.
(7-4, 7-1, 4-4, 6-2)
NEPTUNES A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat 1, S. Gialanze 2, G. Pace 2, M. Castillo 1, J. Bajada 1, S. Camilleri 5, J. Camilleri 2, A. Ivovic 3, F. Filipovic 3, A. Fenech 3, E. Mallia, M. Rossi, D. Bugeja, A. Fava 1.
VALLETTA B. Busuttil, J. Spiteri Staines 1, D. Rizzo 1, J. Cassar 2, S. Busuttil, A. Vlahovic 1, D. Paolella 1, I. Nagaev 4, S. Micallef, A. Agius, K. Borg 1, K. Cremona, A. Theuma, M. Demarco, J. Chircop.
Referees Riccardo D’Antoni, Alex DeRaffaele.
SAN ĠILJAN 14
(2-0, 4-5, 6-2, 2-4)
SAN ĠILJAN J. Tanti, N. Bugelli 2, A. Galea, B. Plumpton 1, M. Jokovic 3, M. Zammit, J. Bonavia 1, A. Younger 3, J. Abela, N. Zammit 3, D. Zammit 1, R. Caruana, G. Borg, G. Bonavia, N. Bonavia.
SLIEMA N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta 1, L. Galea 1, J. Gambin, Z. Mizzi, B. Cachia 2, J. Cutajar, M. Mifsud 1, J. Brownrigg 1, D. Kholod 3, A. Prlainovic, D. Zammit, A. Bugeja. E. Schembri, S. Engerer.
Referees Fabio Riccioti, Peter Balzan.
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