San Ġiljan are the champions for 2020. They edged out Neptunes 9-8 in the second match of the play-off final to stay unbeaten and dethrone their rivals for their 11th success.
The Saints triumph had a solid base of performers under the shrewd Dorian Pisani. The former Marsascala coach must receive enormous credit for re-discovering the team’s hunger for honours.
There was no evidence of a major change in style. There was, after all, no real need to induct sweeping reforms.
This San Ġiljan was not just packed with wonderful talent but also had a great balance to it, a watertight backline with Darren Zammit finally coming of age and extreme defender Jake Tanti oozing confidence among his colleagues.
The Saints were also supplemented by the attacking talents of their trio Ben Plumpton, who got back to his very best, Dino Zammit finally shrugging off his shoulder injury and the prodigious Matthew Zammit.
Andreas Galea, alleviated from tactical duties down the right flank and always reliable Paul Fava also lived to expectations, as did the tail-enders including Jake Bonavia and Marco Mannino.
Victory for San Ġiljan was a realistic proposition in yesterday’s match given their mental edge after winning all the direct encounters this season including last Thursday’s first match of this play-off series.
However, Neptunes were no pushovers. The Balluta Bay team managed to wipe off another mental handicap of losing their rising star Jake Muscat early in the match after being fouled out in the second session as Jovan Popovic’s decision to play Muscat far from their opponents’ goal in position 2 back-fired on him.
Neptunes’ character finally came to the surface but despite their bold efforts, the Saints demonstrated a more positive intent when in possession even if they stuttered for a moment in the second and last session, they conducted the scoreline throughout the match.
Jake Muscat committed a penalty after just 45 seconds and Dino Zammit made no mistake to open the scoring with Steven Camilleri equalising for Neptunes soon after.
Five nettings were scored in a tight first session which turned into a personal duel between Zammit and Camilleri, who exploited some early space to score some fine goals. In the end, San Ġiljan outscored their opponents by three goals to two.
Marking was tight with Ben Plumpton and Steven Camilleri shadowing each other, Jeremy Abela on Dino Zammit and Jake Muscat in close marking on Matthew Zammit in position 2.
However, Muscat was fouled out only three minutes into the second session after committing a third personal fault.
The Saints took advantage thanks to three consecutive goals from Dino Zammit, Andreas Galea and Matthew Zammit to take a 6-2 advantage.
The Reds fought back to reduce the leeway to just two goals before the change of ends.
Plumpton opened this scoring account early in the third session and went close again with two other shots that bounced off the woodwork.
Fifty seconds from the end of the third session, Alan Borg Cole kept Neptunes’ head above waters when he pulled off an excellent block on Andreas Galea’s penalty effort.
But Galea redeemed himself immediately at the start of the fourth session with a cute lob over Borg Cole to extend San Ġiljan’s lead to three goals.
Neptunes were still very much in the frame with Gabriel Pace and Sam Gialanze scoring in quick succession to reduce the deficit to just one goal with over three minutes to go.
Plumpton gave his side some breathing space as the thrilling fare was maintained until last.
San Ġiljan goalkeeper Jake Tanti, then saved a penalty on Steven Camilleri.
This episode left a lasting mark on the game as Camilleri immediately made it 8-9 with a minute to go.
San Ġiljan kept their heads cool to maintain their wafer-thin advantage until the end and land their 11th title.
SAN ĠILJAN 9
(2-3, 2-3, 1-1, 3-2)
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat, L. Calleja, G. Pace 2, S. Busuttil, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri 3, J. Camilleri 1, J. Abela 1, M. Farrugia, S. Stellini, S. Gialanze 1, B. Busuttil.
San Ġiljan: J. Tanti, K. Tanti, A. Galea 3, D. Ciantar, M. Mannino, M. Zammit 1, B. Plumpton 2, J. Bonavia, Z. Micallef, Darren Zammit, P. Fava, Dino Zammit 3, G. Vassallo, M. Ortoleva.
Refs: M. Dalli, R. Spiteri.
FIRST DIVISION KO
(2-4, 3-2, 2-3, 1-1)
OTTERS: D. Spiteri, M. Lanzon 2, R. Caruana, L. Hyzler 2, E. Meli 1, D. Dimech, K. Scicluna, G. Mizzi 1, I. Azzopardi, D. Zahra 2, D. Tully, S. Xerri, G. Gatt Ellis.
MARSAXLOKK: R. Coleiro, J. Portelli, M. Martellacci, L. Saliba, T. Agius 3, B. Lanzon 3, K. Cremona, R. Scerri 1, M. Cacici 3, O. Zammit, F. Zammit.
Refs: P. Balzan, S. Licari.