LIJA ATHLETIC 4
While many coaches despise the international break, particularly due to the drop in momentum some teams experience upon return, Lija Athletic coach Joseph Galea believes it was the perfect opportunity for his side to regroup after a disappointing start to the season.
Galea believes this could have been important for his side as they won 4-3 against Marsaxlokk on Saturday in a game which provided no less than seven goals, with Lija down to 10 men in the second half.
Lija, who dropped from the Premier League after last season’s abrupt end, have heavily invested in their squad’s players but this has not reaped its benefits so far as the side had only four points to show in five game before last weekend’s win.
However, coach Galea believes the few weeks of break from competitive matches have served as a boost because the players have gotten to know each other better and this has given them a steadier base to work on.
“We expected better this season,” Galea told the Times of Malta.
“We have good players but as a team, we weren’t any good. We’ve changed a lot of players from last season and I think it affected us quite a bit as some players have taken longer to get comfortable.
“Even though we won today, it doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem and we need to continue working. We haven’t found the right system yet but the month and a half that we’ve been without matches have affected us positively because we played a few friendlies and gelled better as a group.
“I think today’s win will raise our morale and can give us a boost to keep on winning points. The best thing for us right now is to avoid looking at the standings and take on each game.”
Similarly, Marsaxlokk have made wholesale changes to their squad this season. This includes coach Pablo Doffo who took over the club he once played for.
Doffo admits they have also struggled at the start of the season.
“When we started the season, we had only two players from last season so it’s a completely new group and we struggled a bit in the beginning but now we got some results,” the Marsaxlokk coach said.
“Today it was another difficult result for us, but we will keep on working, we will keep on fighting. We didn’t play bad today, we scored three goals. The problem was that we conceded four and that’s part of football.”
Asked about the match on Saturday, Doffo believes his team deserved at least a point because the match was a balanced affair, however, he admitted the defensive side of his team was not up to its usual standard.
The true balance of the match was shown immediately as within 10 minutes, both sides had had a ‘goal’ annulled for offside.
Initially, it was Marsaxlokk’s Walter Serrano who met a free-kick with a first-timed shot which goalkeeper Luke Bonnici could not stop. Lija replied with Kurt Borg’s chipped shot over the onrushing Frederick Tabone. Both attempts sparked the excitement which was to ensue.
In fact, on 13 minutes, Lija went ahead when Pedro Santos fired in from the right after a counterattack.
Lija doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark when Lydon Micallef was hacked by goalkeeper Tabone inside the area. Santos made no mistake to put the ball into the net again from the spot.
Despite being two goals down, Marsaxlokk came back into the game on 29 minutes when Serrano got his deserved goal during a corner with a strong effort which struck the upright and fell behind Bonnici.
The Argentinian turned assist man three minutes later as Marsaxlokk drew level. From another corner, Serrano hit the ball over the crowded area, finding compatriot Xuan Cappellino who hit first-time into the top of the net.
As if the first half was not exciting enough, Lija went ahead yet again right before the break.
Micallef beat the offside trap and got his revenge on Tabone for his previous tackle by putting the ball past him and into the net.
Lija were hit with a setback when Santos got his marching
orders just before the hour mark after a second yellow card, both cards being a result of post-tackle arguments with opposition players.
However, opportunities remained ever-present as Lija retained their two-goal cushion on 74 minutes, when Kurt Borg met a throughball from Tomoya Shimamura and hit a low shot into the net.
But Marsaxlokk did not lie down as they scored a third goal when from a freekick, the loose ball fell to Cappellino who got his second of the match.
The southseasiders were close to equalising again late in the game when substitute Jeremy Delmar let loose a cannon of a shot which was saved on the line by Lija’s Daniel Scerri.
PEMBROKE ATHLETA 2
ST GEORGE’S 0
VITTORIOSA STARS 0
ZEJTUN CORINTHIANS 4
MGARR UNITED 1
SWIEQI UNITED 2
FGURA UNITED 1
ST ANDREWS 3
LUQA ST. ANDREW’S 1
TARXIEN RAINBOWS 2
PIETÀ HOTSPURS 1
SENGLEA ATHLETIC 0