The fight at the top of the Challenge League is at its climax with only a couple of games to go before the league’s promotion and relegation candidates are finalised.
Last weekend, Pembroke Athleta became the first team to win promotion to the Premier League and now the battle centers between Żejtun Corinthians who lie in joint second, level on 34 points with Naxxar Lions, the latter having a game in hand.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Corinthians coach Orosco Anonam believes the time for beautiful football is over, as their faith rests upon the dropped points of their rivals.
“For us, the remaining games are all about winning,” Anonam said after Żejtun Corinthians edged Mqabba 1-0.
“The players know that now I don’t care how beautiful we play, but I want to see the points. Then what happens, happens but we will do our utmost to make sure that the remaining games we have, we win them.
“It’s not in our hands anymore, it’s in the hands of our rivals so if they drop points, which you never know in football, we have to be there to take them.”
Żejtun face Melita next, one of the sides which achieved promotion to the division over the summer.
However, unlike most of the ‘new’ sides, Melita sit in fifth place of the standings after a positive season and Anonam will be hoping for an easier challenge than that posed to them by strugglers Mqabba on Friday who restricted them to just a second-half winner.
“To be honest, I was very surprised with how they (Mqabba) performed,” Anonam admitted.
“The first time we played them, there wasn’t this level of competitiveness but today they showed that they want to fight to remain in the league.
“I think their coach and the players did a good job to make it difficult for us to score today. We created a lot of chances but they were there, making sure that we can’t score.
“I have to give Mqabba credit but I also give credit to my players who were patient. Today we could have scored in the first half, but in the second half we took initiative and tried to go and use the ball, making the pitch wider.
“We managed to get the goal and I credit them (the players) for withstanding the pressure and getting the result.”
Mqabba, fighting to stay in the division, are eighth in the group on 17 points, four ahead of Rabat Ajax and Vittoriosa Stars, and 13 ahead of bottom side St George’s whom they play next.
Coach Goran Adamovic, visibly distraught after his side’s slender defeat to Żejtun, told the Times of Malta that their next encounter will be a final to them.
“The gap between us and the teams who get relegated is four points so next game for us is very important,” Adamovic said.
“I told the guys today, ‘remember how we feel now because we lost’. We did not deserve it, but we can use it as motivation for Saturday’s game.”
Asked about the defeat to Żejtun, Adamovic echoed Anonam’s analysis and believes his side had performed well.
“I think we really played well today, we didn’t deserve to lose,” he said.
“We conceded a goal from the first dangerous attack. We missed a good two or three chances in the second half but I understand because the guys are very young and they need more experience.
“But now the match is over. I’m really happy with how they performed today and I told them that in the dressing room. Now we have to look towards the Saturday game against St George’s which for us is the final.”
The match gave the idea of an electric fixture when after just two minutes, Renan Farias met a cross with a header which hit the Mqabba crossbar.
Mqabba responded in the 10th minute when Omar Khatib rushed inside the area but his shot was blocked by Żejtun goalkeeper Dunstan Zarb.
The match fell into a lull around the break and both sides became very defensive, as chances became few and far between and the ball was kept mostly around halfway with both sides opting for long-range efforts or set-pieces as they looked afraid to take risks.
However, past the hour, the deadlock was finally broken when Farias held the ball inside the area with his back to the goal, pressured by Gabriel Mannino, but created space to turn and shoot ahead of Mqabba shot-stopper Craig Abdilla.
Mqabba’s best chance of the game came after 80 minutes when a freekick from way outside found Mannino who headed the ball just over.
St George’s vs Pembroke 0-6
Melita vs Vittoriosa Stars 3-0
Lija Athletic vs Marsaxlokk 0-1
San Ġwann vs Rabat Ajax 3-1
Swieqi United vs Mgarr 1-1
Tarxien Rainbows vs Qrendi 2-0
Luqa SA vs St Andrew’s 0-2
Fgura United vs Marsa 1-2
Senglea A. vs Pieta H. 0-6