New Naxxar Lions coach George Vella praised his side’s fighting spirit after they beat a young Qormi team 2-0 on Sunday with goals on either side of the half from new signing Thomas Battaglia and Joel Ellul.
The Reds looked dominant throughout and made it clear they wanted to kick off on the right foot. Qormi, on the other hand, looked no match for their opponents, with chances created a few and far between.
Vella, who made a move from fellow Challenge League side Mqabba during the offseason, faces a new challenge with a club which has been bouncing around the top two divisions of Maltese football – their last appearance in the Premier League being in the 2017-18 season.
“It’s a different club,” Vella said.
“But I want to thank Mqabba for giving me the opportunity to coach them. I was there for three years – two successful seasons with the minors where we were unbeaten and promoted twice, and another with the senior team.
“Obviously, now with Naxxar – the team has been up and down from the first division to the Premier Division for quite some time. The most important thing right now is to keep ourselves in the division because this year, five teams will go down from 15 which is very difficult.
“Then we’ll take it one game at a time and see where the boat arrives.”
Despite the win on Sunday, Vella says he wanted more.
“The performance should have been much better. We had good possession, played short and fast football till the end, however, we still didn’t conclude as much as we wanted,” the Naxxar coach admitted.
“Unfortunately, we have an injury of our main striker which will take a few weeks and we also have another forward who can’t play at the moment as he’s not eligible. He may be coming in the next two weeks. They will surely help us when they come in.
“Overall, I’m happy with the squad, considering also we’ve been in quarantine during pre-season but we still did well, the spirit is good and that’s the most important thing. It was a good start and we look forward to the next match.”
Right from the opening, Naxxar looked the more dangerous side but it was only after 15 minutes that the Lions made it count as French incoming player Battaglia, who joined the side on a free transfer from FC Yellow Boys Weiler-La-Tour in the Dutch second-tier, shocked the Yellows with a firm shot from range which flew into the top corner after a series of unsuccessful attempts in the previous five minutes.
From then on, Naxxar never looked back and continued to mount continuous pressure on Qormi with most of possession stuck in the latter half.
With an average age of 20 years-old, the youngest being Lydon Azzopardi, 17, the Yellows struggled to contain the threats posed to their goal and they will have goalkeeper Miguel Falzon to thank, as his heroics managed to keep the team’s hopes alive until the break.
The second 45 minutes were similar, despite the change of ends in reportedly force seven winds which had been in Qormi’s favour so far.
It took another 15 minutes for Naxxar to double their score as super sub Ellul, who had replaced Bradley Schembri just two minutes before, was left wide open by the Qormi defence during Ayrton Azzopardi’s pin-point cross and volleyed the ball past Falzon.
At the other end, Omar Borg’s goal was rarely in trouble until the dying minutes as Qormi began to fight for a consolation goal.
But this was too little, too late for the young side as their best chance happened only one minute from time, when substitute Neil Meli fired well over at the face of goal after a good run from Luke Farrugia whose shot had been messily parried away by Borg.
NAXXAR LIONS 2
QORMI: M. Falzon, C. Farrugia, G. Sammut (87 D. Camilleri), L. Farrugia, S. Seychell (63 N. Meli), A. Bonnici, I. Micallef, J. Mizzi, I. Mizzi, N. Gauci, L. Azzopardi.
NAXXAR: O. Borg, A. Azzopardi, M. Fenech, M. Mifsud, G. Xuereb (87 J. Sciberras), A. Azzopardi (87 R. Mercieca), R. Cassar, J. Tenorio (73 S. Meilak), F. Zuniga, T. Battaglia, B. Schembri (58 J. Ellul)
Referee: Aleksandar Jovanovic
Scorers: Battaglia 15; Ellul 60.
Best Player: Thomas Battaglia (Naxxar Lions).
ST ANDREWS 0
ST ANDREWS: D. Formosa, I. Azzopardi (81 R. Micallef Decesare), M. D’Alessandro, N. Bradshaw, J. Farrugia, M. Bartolo (70 M. Muscat), A. Borg Olivier, J. Sixsmith (70 M. Vella Vidal), L. Borg, D. Jackson, W. Camilleri.
FGURA: B. Bartolo, J. Stensen (75 J. Cassar), J. Barbara (75 R. Zammit), JP. Attard (81 S. Borg), T. Grech (70 S. Abela), G. Martin (70 G. Galea), S. Nanapere, C. Gandini, J. Vella, N. Ojuola, D. Quintero.
Referee: Trustin Farrugia Cann
Scorers: Attard 24; Nanapere 56, 69.
ŻEBBUĠ RANGERS 1
ŻEBBUĠ: M. Grech, G. Gesualdi, T. Bartolo, S. Bugeja, J. Micallef, A. Mizzi, C. Gauci, C. Vella (84 J. Carbone), J. Silveira (74 M. Del Negro), L. Mijic, S. Miloskovic.
MQABBA: J. Grech (94 M. Buhagiar), N. Falzon, L. Farrugia (60 R. Cauchi), G. Mannino, K. Cutajar, R. Cutajar (46 K. Borg), D. Micallef, R. Spiteri, Y. Tonna (94 O. Khatib), J. Castano, G. Cesani (41 G. Bugeja).
Referee: Ezekiel Barbara
Scorers: Mijic (Z) 49; Mannino (M) 67; Castano (M) 91.
Red card: Gauci (Z) 91.
SWIEQI UNITED 2
ST GEORGES 1
SWIEQI: J. Debattista; I. Micallef, J. Micallef (87 C. Cutajar), J. Willy (77 F. Temile), I. Salis (87 T. Ayorinde), A. Schembri Wismayer, M. Vella, K. Muscat, M. Ivanovic, J. Azzopardi, D. Borg.
ST. GEORGES: J. Azzopardi, M. Caruana (55 L. Agius), L. Bonett (73 I. Camilleri Pirotta), D. Caruana, B. Bruno, O. Magro, J. Grech (46 S. Darmanin), R. Tanti, R. Mandic, F. Lufi, D. Serna.
Referee: Sandro Spiteri
Scorers: Schembri Wismayer (S) 15; Serna (SG) 49; Willy (S) 53.
PEMBROKE ATHLETA 1
PIETÀ HOTSPURS 0
PEMBROKE: P. Schranz, A. Marshall, K. Farrugia (70 S. Gauci), D. Sant, M. Zarb (71 K. Frendo), J. Bajada, M. Brincat (87 K. Sciberras), P. Sammut, N. Grech, M. Borg, L. Chiedozie.
PIETÀ: J. Chirchop St. John, L. Cassar Jackson, N. Pace Cocks, J. Ghio (77 M. Portelli), D. Segura, N. Pisani, C. Ze Lucas, S. Mizzi, G. Borg (77 Z. Leonardi), I. Jalo, J. Scicluna.
Referee: Daniel Casha
Scorers: Chiedozie 38
VITTORIOSA STARS 1
MARSA: N. Vella, C. Gatt Baldacchino, J. Bondin, F. Gusman (89 P. Chircop), G. McKay (46 L. Micallef), M. Micallef, D. Grima (89 S. Diacono), J. Lima,R. Coelho (74 P. Lapira), L. Grech (74 A. Monticelli), P. Henrique.
VITTORIOSA: R. Caruana, D. Sowatey, C. Spiteri, A. Galea, Q. Bregman, J. Farrugia, A. Cilia, D. Borg Castaldi (77 K. Caruana), G. Sultana (49 K. Pace), L. De Melo, R. Farias.
Referee: Matthew De Gabriele.
Scorer: Bregman 89.
Red card: Spiteri (V) 44.
SAN ĠWANN 3
SAN GWANN: C. Formosa, C. Gauci, J. Bowman, Z. Bowman (23 N. Abouaisha), C. Umeh, C. Gauci, C. Omoruanzoje, C. Attah, L. Mallia (89 A. Falzon), A. Zammit (95 D. Mifsud).
QRENDI: D. Zarb, J. Busuttil, S. Schembri, L. Martinelli, A. Agius, M. Gatt, C. Camilleri (73 D. Sammut), S. Perdomo, D. Bueno, Leejoe Schembri, A. Nilsson.
Referee: Alex Johnson.
Scorers: Nilsson (Q) 11; Mallia (S) 15; Attah (S) 66; Sammut (Q) 87; Zammit (S) 93.