Neptunes had to rely on all their experience and determination to turn around the match against Exiles and set up a final showdown with San Ġiljan on Sunday.
The Reds who had first-choice Alan Borg Cole on the bench, took a 3-1 lead inside the first session as they mastered the early exchanges better.
Six goals were traded in a balanced second quarter when Nicky Paris and Kurt Griscti reduced the gap before the change of ends.
Exiles rallied to make it 6-5 courtesy of Aurelien Cousin before Griscti put his team level on 6-6 with a quick counter attack.
It was getting to be quite nervy for Neptunes but Gabriel Pace made it 7-6. Three consecutive goals for Exiles and one for Neptunes opened a 9-8 advantage for the Sliema side for the first time in the match.
This was the cue for Jovan Popovic to throw Borg Cole in the water.
Early in the last session, Neptunes equalised through Jake Muscat’s shot which seeped through a sea of players.
At that point, Exiles collapsed but Neptunes were not yet finished. They then pressed the accelerator to go on and win the last session 5-0.
At the end, Neptunes were relieved to have avoided defeat but still they are left with a mountain to climb to defend the Knock Out title which they won last summer.
Earlier, the match between San Ġiljan and Sirens turned out to be a stroll for the newly-crowned league champions.
A flying start courtesy of two goals from Dino Zammit, Ben Plumpton, Andreas Galea and Matthew Zammit provided coach Dorian Pisani with the perfect platform against a depleted Sirens, who were without their goalkeeper Joseph Parnis and coach Marko Orlovic who flew back home before the end of the season.
Zammit’s lethal left hand kept thundering in the goals, one of which came from a grand back hand, while Plumpton and Galea added the other goals in the second session.
Confirmation of San Ġiljan’s clear edge was provided in the third session after Matthias Azzopardi netted a rare goal to make it 5-12 only for Dino Zammit to pile more misery on their opponents.
The match developed into a shooting practice for the winners who, not surprisingly, they scored at every time of asking with Dino Zammit becoming the main scoring ammunition for San Ġiljan when netting six goals.
SAN ĠILJAN 21
(1-5, 3-4, 1-4, 2-8)
Sirens: O. Gauci, J. Ciantar, K. Erdogan 1, G. Mellilo, J. Zerafa Gregory, T. Said, L. Falzon, I. Riolo, J. Napier 1, M. Cutajar, M. Sciberras 1, M. Azzopardi 3, G. Galea Curmi, G. Farrugia 1.
San Ġiljan: J. Tanti, K. Tanti 1, A. Galea 2, D. Ciantar, M. Mannino, M. Zammit 5, B. Plumpton 4, J. Bonavia 2, Z. Micallef, Darren Zammit 1, P. Fava, Dino Zammit 6, G. Vassallo.
Refs: Massimo Angileri, Alex DeRaffaele.
(3-1, 3-3, 2-5, 5-0)
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat 2, G. Pace 2, S. Bus-uttil 1, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri 5, J. Camilleri 1, J. Abela 1, M. Farrugia, S. Stellini, S. Gialanze 1, B. Busuttil.
EXILES: M. Castillo, J. Bajada 1, A. Magri, P. Paris, T. Sullivan, S. Xerri de Caro, M. Fenech 1, K. Griscti 3, N. Paris 1, A. Cousin 2, D. Fenech, G. Borg.
Refs: Mario Dalli, Ronnie Spiteri.