Sliema were back to winning ways on Thursday when they defeated a disappointing Birżebbuġa to take 1-0 lead in the best-out-three play-off quarter final.
It was a comprehensive victory for the Blues and a welcome reaction by Sergio Afric’s side after they had gone down respectively to San Ġiljan and Neptunes in their last outings.
A five-goal opening session lead for Sliema suggested that their expected victory Birżebbuġia would assume overwhelming proportions.
A strong start presented Sliema with the opportunity to go free-wheeling as their opponents could never steady themselves on set-play, much less on breaks.
John Brownrigg proved be a useful cog in his team’s scoring machine, as he was conspicuous early on when helping himself to a brace from two man-up situations.
That 5-0 kickstart, was extended to 9-0 before ends were shifted, put Afric’s side in the driving seat. Their potting accuracy helped them pile up the score with Brownrigg completing his hat-trick by the end of the second session.
Sliema slowed down the pace in the third session, with David Cutajar scoring two goals for Birżebbuġa. Nevertheless, the outcome was not in any way in question, with Brownrigg and Mark Meli reaching four goals each and Michael Spiteri Staines completing his hat-trick, to help their team to a comfortable 16-2 lead before the last quarter.
In the last session, the only interest for the winning team was whether they could beat their scoring record. They achieved that objective when they surpassed their 19-3 victory over Otters on July 21.
Sirens stole an early march on rivals Exiles to register the first win in the best-out-three play-off quarter final.
Exiles had a very good opening and looked like they were heading for an easy victory, scoring two quick goals courtesy of Aurelien Cousin.
But such an early cushion in waterpolo is no guarantee of victory. Sirens did not lie down and Isaiah Riolo made it 2-1.
Sirens looked sharper in marking and fast breaks. Parity was restored immediately before Isaiah Riolo made it 3-2 by the time ends were shifted.
At this stage the team from Sliema were down, but certainly not out as Cousin, who until then was having an excellent game, somehow managed to further up his performance where his class stood out.
In fact, Cousin drew his team level with a precise shot from six metres out as the game was still wide open.
Yet two quick goals by Gianni Farrugia and John Napier opened a two-goal advantage for Sirens with one quarter to go.
In the last session, the northerners kept their opponents at arms’ length, to keep their two-goal cushion till the end.
(5-0, 4-0, 7-2, 4-1)
Sliema: N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta 2, L. Galea 1, J. Sciberras 1, M. Meli 4, B. Cachia 1, M. Spiteri Staines 4, J. Soler, J. Brownrigg 4, Z. Mizzi 2, N. Bugelli 2, Z. Sciberras.
BIRŻEBBUĠA: M. Rossi, J. Farrugia, N. Cassar, D. Pace Lupi, C. Mifsud, P. Serracino, S. Vassallo 1, D. Cutajar 2, M. Bonniċi, M. Borg, R. Spiteri, S. Fava, M. Sladden.
Refs: S. Licari, P. Balzan.
(2-1, 0-2, 1-2, 1-1)
Exiles: M.Castillo, J. Bajada, A. Magri, P. Paris, T. Sullivan, S. Xerri de Caro, M. Fenech 1, K. Griscti, N. Paris, A. Cousin 3, S. Apap, D. Fenech, G. Borg.
Sirens: J. Parnis, J. Ciantar, K. Erdogan 1, G. Mellilo, L. Galea, T. Said, L. Falzon, I. Riolo 2, J. Napier 1, M. Cutajar 1, M. Sciberras, M. Azzopardi, G. Galea Curmi, G. Farrugia 1.
Refs: R. Spiteri, M. Dalli.