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BOV Division One

Naxxar Lions reaping rewards of more complete squad, says coach Vella

Samuel Saldanha charges forward for Naxxar Lions against Melita. Photo: Olivia Camilleri

MELITA             0

NAXXAR LIONS             2

Naxxar Lions have been the team to watch in this season’s Challenge League, and the only team across both groups to have won each of their seven games played so far. They celebrated their seventh win last weekend when they beat newcomers Melita 2-0 at the Victor Tedesco Stadium.

Following the match, Naxxar coach George Vella spoke to the Times of Malta about how this rise came about, considering the fact that the side was coming from an average season last year.

“Obviously, our main problem last year was that we had some of the foreigners who arrived a bit late and didn’t train much beforehand, even our Maltese players had this,” Vella explained.

“We worked hard as a technical staff to create a better pre-season, and it helped because we knew whom to target. My assistant coach Leslie (Burke) and I know the team now because we’ve been there for almost a year and so, we knew what to target and thanks to the hard-working committee, we are reaping the results.”

The Lions are top of Group A on 21 points, with an eight-point margin between them and runners up Pembroke Athleta who are also unbeaten but stand on 13 points after playing five games.

“Till now we’ve had a very good run, seven from seven,” the Naxxar coach, who joined from Mqabba ahead of last season, said.

“However, the season is very long with still 13 matches to go and we have to take it one game at a time because there will be unforeseen circumstances where we don’t know what will happen.

“It will be very difficult like all the other teams, today we only had 12 players from the senior team – the rest were U-19s who train with us and consequently, we had to change positions within the team. It was an excellent display from those who came in but changing in positions may affect the style of play.

“That’s where you have to show your true mettle.”

It may have been a consistent showing for Naxxar on Sunday, however, Melita coach Saviour Debono Grech believes the result does not reflect his team’s efforts, particularly due to the fact that the Amateurs also had their fair share of chances.

“I’m happy with the performance of the squad, obviously not happy with the result. I think the game gives the wrong picture,” Debono Grech said.

“I think we experienced good moments and others not so good but obviously it was on the other side as well. Luck was not on our side and in the first half, I think should have been to be 2-0 up.

“Obviously, this is football – the difference is the other team scored and we didn’t. You can’t not experience these unlucky moments. But I’m happy with the squad as they followed the guidelines we worked on during the week.”

The match took a pretty entertaining shape from the outset, with Naxxar appearing more commanding.

However, chances lacked during the opening stages until Melita ‘scored’ on 18 minutes, only for Matteo Desira Buttigieg to be adjudged offside before firing at goal from the right.

Both sets of forwards began to cause all kinds of problems and Naxxar Lions goalkeeper Omar Borg was forced to stop a backheeled shot on the line from a corner just after the half hour.

Just a minute later, Melita shotstopper Ryan Caruana came to his side’s rescue with a save to stop a header from point-blank range.

However, the former Santa Lucija goalkeeper could not stop Naxxar’s next effort as Gilberto Carrara, who was influential throughout, curved a cross shot into the area which deceived Caruana as it bent behind him into the net for the opening goal.

Melita replied with a low shot from Nigel Rizzo four minutes from the break, which went just a whisker away from the target.

This missed chance punished Melita further as two minutes later, Carrara went from scorer to assist man when he put in a shot from a freekick onto the left inside the area and speedy forward Samuel Saldanha lost his marker and tapped the ball past Caruana for what was to be the game-winning goal.

After the break, Melita fought to bring themselves back into the game, however, Naxxar looked a closed chest as they held onto their lead.

The Amateurs had their best chance of the half just past the hour mark when Rizzo met a longball into the area and his first-time shot was blocked with difficulty by Borg after it had ricocheted against the post. They tried again on 70 minutes with a Christopher Baker header, but this went wide off the mark.

Naxxar were close to making it three twice late on but Caruana was alert to parry away with a dive to stop efforts from Jurgen Debono and Carrara who fired his final effort from the area, before getting replaced.

OTHER RESULTS

GROUP A

MQABBA         2 PEMBROKE ATHLETA  3

LIJA ATHLETIC p RABAT AJAX    p

ST GEORGE’S  1 MARSAXLOKK 3

ŻEJTUN CORINTHIANS p            VITTORIOSA STARS      p

GROUP B

FGURA UNITED            5 QRENDI           1

PIETA’ HOTSPURS        2 MARSA            0

TARXIEN RAINBOWS   3 MĠARR UNITED           1

SENGLEA ATHLETIC     2 ST ANDREWS 1

LUQA ST ANDREWS     0 ZEBBUĠ RANGERS       8

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