GŻIRA UNITED 2
Jefferson 35, Maxuell 39 pen.
SANTA LUCIA 2
Zerafa 2, Rodrigues 30
D. Radelic-5.5, G. Bohrer-5, L. Tabone, N. Muscat-5, S. Pisani-6, Z. Scerri-5, Y. Messias-6, N. Portelli-6.5, M. Maia-6, Jefferson-5.5, J. Mendoza-7.5
J. Archibald-5, A. Prates-7, J. Pisani-5.5, N. Pulis-6, G. Conti-6.5, V. Plut-6 (78 L. McKay), F. Rodrigues-6, J. Tanti-5.5 (65 P. Mota), V. Filho, J. Zerafa-6 (72 A. Vella), D. Xuereb-6.
Referee: Etienne Mangion.
Yellow cards: Conti, Messias, Portelli, Tanti, Filho, Tabone, Pisani, Mendoza.
Red card: Filho (SL) 69, Tabone (G) 82.
BOV man of the match: Jackson Mendoza (Santa Lucia).
Gzira United battled back from two goals down to deny Santa Lucia a crucial win but could not stop their fading title hopes from suffering another blow.
Santa Lucia got off to the best possible start when Vito Plut hit the ball goalwards but Darijan Radelic, the Gżira goalkeeper, slid across his goalline to block his attempt, only to see the ball rebounded in the direction of Jamie Zerafa who bundled the ball into an empty net.
Zerafa’s goal after 76 seconds set the tone for the match. Having taken the lead, Santa Lucia looked to build on their early advantage and proceeded to dominate the opening exchanges.
Plut’s pace proved a constant threat as the Slovenian striker forced another good save from Radelic as Gżira struggled to regain their composure.
Despite Santa Lucia’s superiority, the Maroons did have chances to restore parity. On 20 minutes, the winger forced a save from Julani Archibald.
But shortly afterwards, Gżira’s goal was breached again. Hesitancy in the Gzira defence allowed Francisco Rodrigues to skip free on the right flank, who evading the challenge of Gabriel Bohrer, fired a low strike behind Radelic.
Buoyed by their two-goal lead, Santa Lucia unwisely opted to sit back and absorb the ensuing pressure from their shell-shocked opponents.
Archibald came to his side’s rescue when Yuri Messias powered in a drive from the edge of the area. But the goalkeeper from St Kitts & Nevis, could not recover in time to block Jefferson’s rebound.
The Maroons equalised five minutes later in controversial circumstances. Dexter Xuereb’s attempt to cover the ball was clumsy but there looked barely enough contact when Maia Maxuell crashed to the ground. Maxuell picked himself up, kept his cool to send the goalkeeper the wrong way.
It was a more recognisable Gżira side that came out for the second half.
Shy the hour mark, Luke Tabone was unable to turn home from a corner by Steve Pisani.
Moments later, Victor Filho dazzled his way into the penalty box but Tabone was in close proximity as the Gzira defender attempted to tackled him, the Brazilian winger went down in the box. Despite, strong penalty appeals, it was not given.
A fractious game ended with both sides down to 10 men after Filho was red-carded for a second bookable offence after 69 minutes, Gżira’s Tabone followed him eight minutes from time.
Maxuell left the Saints holding their breath in the final stages when he sneaked at the far post to hit a volley against the crossbar.