Marsaxlokk and Pietà Hotspurs were the final two teams added to the list of promoted sides to next season’s Premier League.
While Pembroke Athleta and Żebbug Rangers have yet to face each other in a Championship decider on April 23 for the overall winner of this year’s Challenge League, Pietà and Marsaxlokk can finally rest knowing the promotion battle, which went down until the final matchday, is now over.
VITTORIOSA STARS ………….0
Marsaxlokk have been through a transition year this season. However, Pablo Doffo’s clan managed to secure promotion either way, in a tense finale that could have seen three sides take the second spot behind Pembroke on the final day.
Coach Doffo told the Times of Malta that it had taken some time for his side to click but once that happened, the side found its strength.
“I’m very happy with this achievement for the club, all the credit goes to our players that they did an amazing job during the season,” Doffo said.
“The fact that we had a completely new group from the beginning of the season shows that for us it took a bit of time in the first four or five games of the season to click all together, but then the players got on so well together that it was a matter of time only before they started getting positive results.
“Our main strength was the whole group, we were sticking together in difficult times and nothing changed in our philosophy as we always believed in our principles from day one.”
With one game remaining, Żejtun – on 40 points and already finished with their season’s commitments – led a trio, with Marsaxlokk in third on 38 points and Naxxar on 37.
Marsaxlokk thumped Vittoriosa Stars 6-0 while Naxxar could not inflict a first league defeat to Pembroke in a 1-0 loss.
“(The final match) was extremely difficult in the mental part, because since we lost against Melita back in January we knew that if we wanted to have any chance to keep our dream of promotion we were not allowed to drop any points till the last game,” Doffo explained.
“The club always gave us the best conditions to do our job in the best way possible and that is thanks to our president and the people around that were there giving us the support needed throughout the season.”
Pietà had led Group B for a number of weeks before being overtaken by the eventual winners of the Group Zebbug. However, for a side deeply rooted in its philosophy of bringing up a youthful squad season after the other, this was an even greater achievement.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Hotspurs coach Paul Gatt said the club’s focus has always been to build up their young players and urged other sides to make use of their youth.
“From day one, our focus as a staff and as a club was to improve our crop of young talented players, we believed that this would eventually lead to better results and I think time has proven us right,” Gatt said.
“We’re happy with the outcome but we’re even happier with the journey – we were the top team in the Challenge League, from both groups who played with the most U-19 and U-21 players and I’ve seen them grow in character game after game.
“I think they’ve sent a message that one can also get results with a young team if they are given the right structure and input.”
Group B was a particularly tough section of the league this season with Tarxien Rainbows and Marsa both neck and neck to take away that spot from Pietà.
However, with Marsa receiving a points deduction by the Malta FA’s Control, Disciplinary and Ethics Committee as well as a three-year ban to goalkeeper Dorian Bugeja after he assaulted match official Mitchell Scerri during their match against Pietà, the battle for second place then became between the Hotspurs and Tarxien.
When the two sides met in the penultimate match of the season, they could not be separated and their match finished all square at 2-2, confirming Żebbuġ as section winners.
In turn, two points decided affairs as Pieta beat Swieqi United 3-1, with Tarxien beating Fgura with the same scoreline.
“The league was very challenging, there are a lot of competent and prepared coaches in the league whom I have great respect for and there were no easy games,” Gatt explained.
“Playing a league of only 20 games is also tough as the second round especially every game was a final. I believe our style of play helped us finish first at the end of the first round and then the family feel within the team pushed us through the tough moments these last couple of months.”
Asked about next season, Gatt remains adamant that improving his players will be the goal for him and his staff.
“The plan is what it always was for Pietà – keep improving our players and develop even more new promising players to be able to make it at first-team level,” he said.
St George’s vs Lija Ath. 2-2
Rabat Ajax vs Melita 1-2
Mqabba vs San Gwann 0-4
Pembroke vs Naxxar Lions 1-0
Mġarr United vs Luqa SA 1-0
Marsa vs Zebbug Rangers 1-3
Fgura Utd vs Tarxien R. 1-3
Qrendi vs St Andrews 3-2