Mġarr United kicked off their Challenge League adventure on the right foot after taking all three points from their very first match in the division in a close 1-0 victory over Senglea Athletic on Saturday at the Centenary
With the team having never played so high along the Maltese football spectrum, coach Patrick Curmi admits settling in was quite difficult.
“It was the first game for our club in the Challenge League – our christening,” Curmi told the Times of Malta.
“It was difficult, and it was clear especially in the first 15-20 minutes that most of our players felt the pressure. Even the fact that we played here – the players aren’t used to playing at the Centenary Stadium as most times, we’ve played in smaller pitches.”
Despite this, the newcomers managed a win, albeit in the final moments of the game with a shot from the spot and Curmi believes it was deserved.
“I think that all in all, if there was one team that deserved to win the points, it was ours. We tried all game, even though we missed a lot of chances and in reality, we could have easily been punished for it at times. But I think it was a fair result,” he said.
On the other hand, Senglea have not had the start to the season they were hoping for and while the loss on Saturday was not as harsh as their defeat to Tarxien Rainbows – a 6-1 mauling on opening day – it has brought to light numerous frailties which coach Dennis Fenech has pinned on the lack of a striker, and the level of chemistry his players must raise.
“I think that today we had a good performance, especially in the second half as we had the edge over (Mġarr) at times. The problem is that we do not have a pure striker and we’ve been looking for one since the beginning.
However, the biggest drawback for us is that we had to bring in 16 new players and it’s a problem until they all get used to each other,” Fenech said.
“All in all, I believe we deserved a bit better, even though the game against Tarxien was disastrous for us, because I think we have a team that can compete at least at mid-table.”
Asked about the pressure of being one of the teams relegated from the Premier League, Fenech admitted it would be hard to be stocked for a return so easily.
“For most teams that get the drop, it’s hard to be strong enough because many things change – in our case, our president, who was holding the team together mostly by himself, is no longer here,” Fenech said.
“We have had to fight for budgets and sponsors and with the little that we have, we’ve tried to bring in the players that we could. I think the worst that could happen is that the team continues on its way down, as has happened in the past with others, but I think that happens if you do not take care of your team.”
“It was the first game for our club in the Challenge League – our christening” – Curmi
This summer’s transfer window was possibly one of the most active in years and while the Cottonera side has had to bring in many players out of necessity, Mġarr have focused on bringing in a youth element.
“I’m very happy with my squad,” Curmi explained, “because our club is quite small, we wanted to spend our little resources in the right way. Most of our signings are 19-, 20-year-olds because we believe in a young team.
Then we got more experienced players like Karl Pulo.
“This week we’ve managed to bring in Clifford Gauci who was on a free and I believe he will be a very strong element to our midfield. We also roped in Harry Wood, who should be an important foreigner for us, but he’s suffered an injury in pre-season and hopefully he’ll be with us next week.”
Mġarr were the ones to fire at goal first with both teams taking the first five minutes to settle in. But pressure was creeping up on them as they resorted to long-range shots which did not trouble the Senglea defence.
Senglea’s response came from Larson Mallia who on 15 minutes, chested a cross and attempted the overhead kick, only to have his shot blocked for a corner.
Mġarr suffered lapses of concentration in defence but made up for it in attack as Gabriel Archaval chased a throughball on the left, nutmegged his marker and put in a low ball into the area.
However, while the pass reached Aaron Sammut, his tap in attempt was parried away at the last second by goalkeeper James Pisani.
The newcomers began to build up their confidence and at the start of the second half, it was Mġarr who had the first shot yet again. But while the game became mostly concentrated at the halfway line, both teams kept pushing, with Mġarr getting the nod from the spot after substitute James Oghenekewaro was tripped right inside the area as the game had gone into injury time.
The Nigerian was visibly distraught as the ball was handed to fellow substitute Gordon Saliba for the spotkick, and the opportunity to score the side’s first goal in the division.
While Saliba scored the attempt, he was forced to retake the shot by referee Jason Portelli.
However, he made no mistake to send it home on the second attempt as well, as Mġarr reeled away in celebration after their first win of the season.
ST GEORGE’S 0
NAXXAR LIONS 1
LIJA ATHLETIC 2
SAN ĠWANN 2
RABAT AJAX 0
ZEJTUN CORINTHIANS 2
VITTORIOSA STARS 1
PEMBROKE ATHLETA 4
ŻEBBUĠ RANGERS 0
TARXIEN RAINBOWS 0
SWIEQI UNITED 0
LUQA ST ANDREWS 1
PIETÀ HOTSPURS 3
ST ANDREWS 1