Rivals San Ġiljan and Neptunes started in the crossovers phase with two wins, albeit they attained victory in a completely different manner.
A very close encounter between San Ġiljan and Sliema was resolved in extremis in favour of the team that had a longer bench.
But one cannot deny that Sliema’s fighting qualities are second to none after they succeeded to stun the Saints courtesy of an astonishing comeback.
With Ryan Coleiro in goal in lieu of the injured Jake Tanti, San Ġiljan pressed on the accelerator from the word ‘go’.
It had looked all over for Sliema as they fumbled against a slick St Julian’s side who had done everything right to take a 6-0 lead early in the second session.
Heeding San Ġiljan’s call to come out of retirement, Coleiro was having a memorable debut against his ex-side as he saved a penalty on John Brownrigg.
But the Blues, with Jerome Gabarretta in fine form, believed in themselves. They suddenly found their scoring edge to score six times without reply.
Nicholas Bugelli made it 7-7. Then Andreas Galea missed a penalty as a visibly distraught San Ġiljan could not contain their sprightly opponents.
Sliema had left-hander Zach Mizzi fouled out and Dorian Pisani’s boys cashed in shortly to make it 8-7. Goals alternated as Sliema responded with two conversions – Brownrigg and Bugelli but Ben Plumpton’s incredible backhand sealed the issue for the reigning champions.
Neptunes easily strolled past Valletta with youngsters Jake Muscat and Sam Gialanze in deadly striking form, followed by Steven Camilleri and playing with absolute assurance.
However, Valletta fought bravely and confirmed that their promotion to the Premier League is no fluke.
It had been largely balanced until midway through the second session as the two sides shared six goals, after which the Reds took over.
At the important juncture, Valletta conceded the initiative to their more-quoted opponents for whom Jake Muscat and Sam Gialanze reached a hat-trick as the sides changed ends with Neptunes 6-4 ahead.
On 7-5 in their favour, Neptunes netted four more to go 11-5 up.
At the beginning of the last session, Jordan Camilleri had ample time to break and beat Ryan Sciortino, which he did. But soon after Nikolai Zammit reached his hat-trick against his former club. The Zammit brothers – Miguel and Nikolai added two other goals to make the scoreline more respectable.
In the first match of the evening, Sirens had an easy outing against Otters as they coasted home to the tune of 11 goals to two.
(1-1, 0-3, 1-3, 0-5)
Otters: M. Xerri, C. Spiteri Debarro, M. Lanzon, L. Hyzler, E. Meli, L. Gialanze 1, K. Scicluna, G. Mizzi, D. Dimech, C. Zammit 1, Z. Bartolo, O.Zammit, D. Spiteri.
Sirens: G. Galea Curmi, M. Grech, K. Erdogan 1, J. Sciberras 1, J. Zerafa Gregory 1, G. Farrugia, M. Sciberras, I. Riolo 1, J. Napier 4, L. Falzon, L. Caruana, M. Azzopardi 2, O. Bugeja, T. Said 2.
Refs: S. Licari, R. Magri.
San Ġiljan 10
(3-0, 4-4, 0-2, 3-3)
SAN ĠILJAN: R. Coleiro, D. Zahra, A. Galea 1, D. Fero, R. Caruana, M. Zammit 3, B. Plumpton 2, J. Bonavia, D. Ciantar, Darren Zammit, K. Galea, Dino Zammit 3, G. Vassallo, M. Ortoleva 1.
SLIEMA:N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta 2, L. Galea, M. Meli, B. Cachia 1, N. Schiavone, M. Mifsud 2, J. Brownrigg 1, J. Gambin, Z. Mizzi 1, N. Bugelli 2, Z. Sciberras.
Refs: R. Spiteri, P. Balzan.
(1-1, 5-3, 5-1, 3-3)
NEPTUNES: A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat 5, L. Calleja, G. Pace, M. Castillo, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri 2, J. Camilleri 1, J. Abela, M. Spiteri Staines 1, A. Fenech, S. Gialanze 4, A. Bugeja.
VALLETTA: R. Sciortino, P. Borg, E. Aquilina, M. Stellini, A. Agius, R. Mock, D. Paolella, M. Mifsud, N. Farrugia, M Zammit 3, N. Zammit 4, N. Lanzon 1, B. Muscat, M. Mannino 1.
Refs: M. Angileri, A. DeRaf-faele.