A super performance by Neptunes froze San Giljan as the two teams locked horns in a keen duel when the Reds tipped their opponents with a late rally.
There was no question about Neptunes’ comeback as the Jovan Popovic’s side firmly established a foothold on the proceedings courtesy of a well-thought gameplan that stifled their opponents from the third session onwards.
The high-scoring element and the high rate of expulsions – three players were fouled out, two for San Giljan, one for Neptunes – made for an exciting encounter.
San Giljan gained the edge in the opening session. Andreas Galea and Dino Zammit helped the Saints race to a 2-0 lead. Neptunes came more into the picture with Jordan Camilleri hitting the target twice to put the Reds just one goal behind, 3-2, at the end of the first session.
Steven Camilleri had been hanging on two early fouls after he conceded a penalty three minutes into the second session on Darren Zammit. From the ensuing five-metre effort, Dino Zammit made it 4-3. But Sam Gialanze, teeing up to an exquisite service levelled matters. However, it was Dominique Zahra who had the final say, as San Giljan led 5-4 when ends were changed.
Jordan Camilleri completed his hat-trick early in the third session but Jake Bonavia cutely resolved a break before Dino Zammit made it 7-5 for San Giljan.
But from this point onwards, it was all Neptunes. They neutralised their two-goal deficit to put their noses ahead for the first time with goals by Gabriel Pace, Jake Muscat, and Jeremy Abela.
There was more bad news on the way for San Giljan when their centre Ben Plumpton, also hanging on two fouls, was excluded.
St. Julians had no option but to go for a full-pitch press in the last quarter but Neptunes remained totally in command when Pace gave them a two-goal cushion at the start of the last eight minutes.
Andreas Galea kept San Giljan in the game but Pace scored again. And when Dino Zammit was fouled out, only few could see them saving the game. Galea came to San Giljan’s rescue again to make it 10-9. Yet, Jake Muscat scored his third goal of the evening to seal victory despite Keith Galea’s efforts.
Winning start for Sliema coach ‘Beto’ Fernandez
With new coach ‘Beto’ Fernandez, dishing out instructions from the technical area, Sliema applied themselves with great commitment to run out deserved winners against a Birzebbugia side that fought strongly but in the end had to concede defeat to superior opponents.
The basis for their victory was primarily laid in the opening session during which they established a 6-0 advantage.
After that, a dose of over-confidence coincided with some combative fare from Birzebbugia.
Two goals from either side at the end left the proceedings at a status quo with Sliema easy winners. Jerome Gabarretta led the scorers’ list with five goals.
Earlier, Ta’ Xbiex sprang a surprise when they beat the more fancied Sirens 4-3. Guided by Christian Presciutti, Ta’ Xbiex could never be shrugged off.
After two low-scoring sessions, Ta’ Xbiex exploited their superiority in the third part of the game and scored four goals to take a 4-1 advantage.
Sirens produced a reaction in the last session but this was too little too late.
TA XBIEX 4
(1-0, 0-0, 0-4, 2-0)
Sirens: G. Galea Curmi, M. Grech, K. Erdogan, J. Sciberras, J. Zerafa Gregory, G. Farrugia 1, M. Sciberras 1, I. Riolo, J. Napier, G. Mellilo, L. Caruana, M. Azzopardi 1, O. Gauci
Ta Xbiex: M. Vassallo, R. Grech 1, Z. Cutajar, J. Pace Mizzi, J. Cassar 1, M. Demarco, J. Saliba, J. Cutajar, K. Borg 1, S. Azzopardi, E. Schembri, D. Rizzo 1, A. Theuma.
Referees: R. Magri, S. Pinato
(0-6, 1-2, 0-0, 2-2)
Birzebbugia: M. Rossi, J Farrugia 1, N. Cassar, D. Pace Lupi, M. Curmi, P. Serracino, S. Vassallo 1, D. Cutajar, M. Bonnici, M Borg, R. Spiteri, S. Fava, L. Abela, G. Sammut 1.
Sliema: N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta 5, L. Galea, M. Meli 1, B. Cachia 1, N. Schiavone, M Mifsud, J. Gambin 1, Z. Mizzi 2, N, Bugelli, Z. Sciberras.
Referees: Alex DeRaffaele, A. Cavallini
SAN GILJAN 10
(2-3, 2-2, 4-2, 3-3)
Neptunes: A Borg Cole, J. Muscat 3, L. Calleja, G. Pace 3, M. Castillo, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri, J. Camilleri 3, J. Abela 1, M. Spiteri Staines, A. Fenech, S. Gialanze 1, A. Bugeja.
San Giljan: R. Coleiro, D. Zahra 1, A. Galea 3, D. Ferro, R. Caruana, M. Zammit, B. Plumpton, J. Bonavia 2, D. Ciantar, Darren Zammit, K. Galea 1, Dino Zammit 3, G. Vassallo.
Referees: P. Balzan, S. Pinato.