SWIEQI UNITED 0
ŻEBBUĠ RANGERS 3
Żebbuġ Rangers produced a statement performance and their first three points of the season over the weekend as they beat leaders Swieqi United 3-0 at the Victor Tedesco Stadium.
What was predicted to be a tough afternoon for the Yellows, in the penultimate position of the standings before Saturday’s game, was in fact the opposite as coach Brian Spiteri’s clan took control of proceedings from the start and got the deserved win.
Speaking to the Times of Malta after the match, Spiteri lauded his players’ performance.
“The performance today was much better than that of recent times. However, I believe that against Tarxien (2-2) we also played well, only unfortunate to have conceded in injury time,” Spiteri said.
“My only disappointment was against Fgura (3-0 loss) as we did not even began to play. Today however, we were accurate in knowing what we needed to do, and we did just that.
“I hope that this game gives the team a boost, helping them to believe in themselves a bit more so that we can accomplish what we trained for during the week. This has been crucial so far as we have not been able to do what we trained for in our games.
“The positive from these two games against Swieqi and Tarxien, I believe, was that we are much closer to what we are doing in training.
“We still have a lot to fix because in the final 15 minutes, Swieqi had a number of chances to score but our goalkeeper played very well. Swieqi are the kind of team that never stops coming at you, even at two, three, four goals down.
“Apart from that, they had not yet conceded any goals before today so in itself, the result is very positive, and I hope it raises the team’s morale.”
On the other hand, Swieqi, who had been unbeaten in the first three games, will need to regroup after being brought back down from their pedestal, even losing their top spot through goal difference.
Coach Rodney Bugeja did not mince words when asked about the team’s disappointing game.
“Without a doubt, we were not the best we could be. We were clumsy in our passes and our counter press was slow and without that usual strength,” Bugeja said.
“To be fair, we had our chances and we missed them and in football, those who take their chances, win.”
Despite this setback, Swieqi are tied at the top with Fgura United on seven points after an impressive start. However, Bugeja insists this has little value as yet.
“The standings don’t mean anything right now – it’s still too early to say. Having such a good start is not at all surprising to me. We’ve been working for the past years to build up this team and inject a good spirit into it,” he said.
“Even though the budget is low, we’ve worked diligently to have a competitive squad. The biggest positive of this team is the comradery between the players and staff here. There is a great feeling of togetherness and even after this setback, I’m sure that the team will reunite even more to perform better.”
This emphasis on doing better is also part of Spiteri’s agenda for his side, particularly because of the balanced nature of this year’s Challenge league.
“The way the league is this year, with 11 teams (in every group) meaning you play 10 games each round, there is a complete balance,” Spiteri explained.
“It is going to be a crucial month for us, not in terms of opponents, but in the way we are going to make our performances better and win points. The way the standings are set, three points are way more powerful this year than they were last year, so we need to focus on getting as many of them as we can.”
The match on Saturday faced a technical delay after referee Emanuel Grech deemed one of the goalpost’s nets not fit for purpose. However, as play began, Żebbuġ showed their intentions immediately with their first shot coming after five minutes.
In spite of this, the first goal came 20 minutes later, in the 25th minute, when Yanis Tonna intercepted a pass near the halfway line, played a swift wall pass with Miguel Jimenez Perez, swerved past a defender and fired past Swieqi goalkeeper Jean Claude Debattista.
Shocked as they were, Swieqi could not respond as Żebbuġ netted again six minutes later.
Another team play for the Rangers saw a throughball reach Shalon Diacono who turned the ball to Gaetano Gesualdi, the latter completely unmarked and with only Debattista to beat, he smashed the ball into the net.
The side was close to a third five minutes later, as a Shaun Bugeja header from a corner was kept out on the line by Johan Castano, who in the process collided with the team’s shot-stopper.
Half-time was a welcomed break for Swieqi but the side could not catch a break, even after the change of ends as Frank Temile missed a golden opportunity inside the area and Żebbuġ repaid them by scoring their third after 55 minutes.
A needless tackle by Swieqi substitute Neil Borg gave away a penalty, from which Gesualdi made no mistake in sending Debattista the wrong way and netting his brace.
After the hour, it turned into a heroic showing for Żebbuġ goalkeeper Jamie Azzopardi who endured a barrage of shots from the Swieqi forward line but kept his clean sheet intact as his side maintained their three-goal lead.
LIJA ATHLETIC 4
VITTORIOSA STARS 0
SAN ĠWANN 0
NAXXAR LIONS 1
ŻEJTUN CORINTHIANS 3
ST GEORGE’S 0
RABAT AJAX 0
PEMBROKE ATHLETA 2
TARXIEN RAINBOWS 2
ST ANDREWS 2
SENGLEA ATHLETIC 3
FGURA UNITED 1
LUQA UNITED 1
MGARR UNITED 0