Last season, Marsa emerged as one of the dominant forces of the Challenge League, as under Ivan Zammit, the side cruised past opponents into the top spot with Pembroke Athleta being the only challengers for the division’s honours.
However, their promotion bid was thwarted by the league’s failure to reach 75% completion of league fixtures forcing the MFA to declare the championship null due to the COVID-19 pandemic
That fate inevitably brought huge changes within Marsa FC with the club deciding to overhaul the squad and Zammit making way for Italian mentor Enzo Potenza.
Speaking after the Times of Malta after the team’s hard-fought 1-0 win over Qrendi, the former Floriana coach said he admitted that the difficulty lies within understanding how to gel the players together.
“The difficulty is to understand what we can do together, to create a good group and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each player,” Potenza said.
“Like this, we are building up our squad to be friends and respect one another so that eventually, we can see that on the pitch. I believe that today because of Kakinuma’s injury, and I hope it is not that serious, we wanted to win for Riki (Kakinuma). But this was also for the many guys who remain out.
“It was a hard-fought win for us and those who played did a good job.”
The tightly contested match, against a Qrendi side that would not budge, was one based around the halfway line as both sets of defences could not be unlocked until a miscommunication in the Qrendi area gave away the only goal.
“I think we had a great performance today,” Potenza said, “it was not easy as (Qrendi) have a very good team. If we had scored our two chances in the first half, then I don’t believe they would had come back.
“But every game has been difficult, and full of episodes. We had many attackers on the pitch and we managed to work with it. We preferred to remove a player to try and attack the spaces more. But I think that victory today was absolutely not in question.”
Marsa will be facing Senglea Athletic next – a side that coach Potenza knows a good deal about, having been the first side he coached during his time in Malta before heading to Floriana and winning the Premier League.
“For our next game, we have a team that I have quite the attachment to – Senglea,” Potenza said.
“It is the team which introduced me to coaching in Malta and gave me the experience to win the league with Floriana two seasons ago. It is all thanks to the work that Senglea did, not only with me but with all of the club and its football.”
At the other end, Qrendi coach Lydon Fenech, will not have much to criticise either as his side held their own, bar the defensive mishap which led to the only goal in the game.
“I am happy with our performance. I believe we had a good game and it was a balanced affair, even though everyone knows the strength of a team like Marsa. However, I believe that a draw would have been a fair result,” Fenech said.
“Obviously, goals come from mistakes and that is what happened today. I think it was the only mistake we made in our defence and we conceded from it. So, all in all, I don’t think you can fault the boys – they were good today.”
Asked about his plan for the side going forward, Fenech was optimistic as he believes Qrendi, who had started off the season brightly, can bounce back from this.
“The plan is to continue taking it one game at a time. Obviously, it is important that after two performances which did not yield results, we must head into the next game fully concentrated – another good performance like today and hopefully, we can get the result we want like we did in the first two games.”
The first real chance of the game, after what looked like an impenetrable pair of Back Fours, came to Kakinuma who fired first-time from a Marsa corner, forcing Qrendi goalkeeper Jonathan Vella into a diving save.
Qrendi replied with a shot from distance which was not enough to reach the target, resulting in a Marsa counterattack. Qrendi will have Vella to thank as he blocked Amadou Samb’s shot from the right.
Potenza’s men suffered an early setback as Kakinuma ended up in the stands with crutches after a leg injury took him out of the game after the half hour.
The second half was a continuation of the first’s strict defending and as a result, chances were a few and far between. That was until in the 76th minute, when Marsa went ahead.
A long ball into the area was misjudged by the Qrendi defence, as Marsa’s Ryan Darmanin – who came on for Samb only ten minutes before – headed the ball past Vella who was caught flat-footed amid the miscommunication of his defence.
Qrendi suffered another blow seven minutes from time as they ended the match with 10 men.
A tackle on Qrendi’s Camilo Del Castillo Escobar became the end of his game after he retaliated and was shown a straight red card, with arguments between the rest of the players ensuing.
Marsa tried to exploit this advantage late on with a Matthew Gauci shot from the distance but Vella was alert to push over the bar.
MELITA 2 LIJA ATHLETIC 1
MQABBA 1 RABAT AJAX 2
ŻEJTUN CORINTHIANS 2 NAXXAR LIONS 3
VITTORIOSA STARS 2 SAN GWANN 1
ST ANDREWS 2 SWIEQI UNITED 2
SENGLEA ATHLETIC 0 ŻEBBUĠ RANGERS 3
LUQA ST ANDREW’S 0 TARXIEN RAINBOWS 2
PIETA HOTSPURS 0 MĠARR UNITED 0
(abandoned at half-time due to waterlogged pitch)