When Sliema come up against Neptunes, they are typically super-committed. It was no exception yesterday. Their hero this time was ex-San Giljan player Dino Zammit, whose four goals in their 6-5 victory enabled his side to take an important win.
Although the Blues could not claw their way further up the table, they had further incentive to draw maximum spoils to clinch the first win in their direct encounters with the front-runners.
They did this chiefly through the exploits of Zammit but Neptunes were to blame as their lack of shooting accuracy played into the hands of their shrewd opponents.
With Steven Camilleri offering extra cover to the defence, making up for the absence of his brother Jordan, Neptunes’ gameplan centred around Sam Gialanze who was not in his best form yesterday.
The Blues started almost like a train, taking a 2-0 lead inside the first three minutes through Jamie Gambin and John Brownrigg.
But Neptunes recovered admirably to restore equilibrium when Camilleri and the opportunistic Gabriel Pace made it all square before the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Neptunes had a penalty whistled against them when Jeremy Abela fouled the impressive Gambin who went into full stretch to reach the long ball in front of Alan Borg Cole. From the ensuing shot, Zammit made 3-2.
Sliema were back to full strength with Jerome Gabaretta returning after injury, deployed a front shielder closing in on the opposing centre towards the expiry of the 30-second period.
On the other side, at the start of the third session, Camilleri missed his five-metre throw. The ball was transferred quickly upfront to Zammit who sent Borg Cole’s net bulging with a great flick.
However, Neptunes’ young duo Alec Fenech and Sam Gialanze came to their side’s rescue to level matters before the end of the third session.
A speedy exchange of passes at the start of the last session saw Michael Spiteri Staines, formerly of Sliema, giving Neptunes the lead for the first time.
On the other side, Zach Mizzi hit the underside of the crossbar but his effort was not deemed to have crossed the imaginary line. But Neptunes did not heed the warning as Zammit scurried away on the left to hit the ball behind Borg Cole.
But drama was still on the agenda when forty-three seconds from the end, Zammit again dispatched the ball in the Neptunes’ net to put Sliema in front for the last time.
Earlier, a goal netted 17 seconds from time by Paul Serracino gave Sirens a dramatic win over Exiles and brought controversy in a rousing finale which in the end brought satisfaction on the faces of the Sirens players.
A bold recovery by the Northenders lifted them from an 8-6 defeat to a 10-9 victory but the arguments will go on endlessly about whether Exiles should have been awarded on the stroke of time.
All in all, however, it was finally a contest that was a credit to the game despite the odd mistakes from the players and a couple of contested decisions by the Italian referee Attilo Paoletti.
Exiles seemed to be on their way to their first victory as they often led by two goals and sometimes by three but Marco Orlovic’s side showed no signs of giving up, especially in the latter stages of the game.
In the opening match, Valletta beat third-placed Ta’ Xbiex 10-7 to consolidate the top position in the First Division.
TA XBIEX 7
(1-1, 3-1, 2-2, 4-3)
VALLETTA B. Busuttil, M. Pace, T. Said, L. Hyzler, S. Busuttil 2, Z. Micallef 1, D. Paolella, M. Mifsud 4, S. Micallef, A. Agius, K. Galea 1, K. Cremona 1, A. Bugeja, L. Felice 1.
TA’ XBIEX R. Coleiro, JC Saliba, E. Aquilina, J. Pace Mizzi 1, E. Meli, S. Engerer, J. Saliba 2, J. Cassar 3, E. Schembri, Z. Licari Cutajar 1, B. Attard Littschw, J. Chircop, D. Galea Mule.
Referees: F. Braghini, R. Magri.
(2-1, 1-4, 3-2, 4-2)
SIRENS T. Micallef, P. Serracino 1, K. Erdogan 2, J. Sciberras 1, J. Zerafa Gregory 1, G. Farrugia 1, M. Chircop, I. Riolo, J. Napier 1, M. Cutajar, M. Sciberras, M. Azzopardi 3, M. Bonello Dupius.
EXILES M. Castillo, N. Saliba, L. Gialanze, P. Paris, T. Sullivan, S. Xerri de Caro, M. Fenech 1, K. Griscti, N. Paris, J. Bajada 1, M. Aquilina 4, D. Fenech 2, G. Borg, M. Martellacci 1.
Referees: A. Paoletti, R. Spiteri.
(2-2, 0-1, 2-1, 2-1)
NEPTUNES A Borg Cole, J. Muscat, S. Gialanze 1, G. Pace 1, J. Cachia, J. Spiteri Staines, S. Camilleri 1, J. Camilleri, J. Abela, M. Spiteri Staines 1, A. Fenech 1, M. Castillo, M. Rossi.
SLIEMA N. Grixti, J. Gabaretta, L. Galea, D. Rizzo, M Meli, B. Cachia, J. Cutajar, M. Mifsud, J. Brownrigg 1, J. Gambin 1, Z. Mizzi, D. Zammit 4, A. Theuma.
Referees: F. Braghini, M. Angileri.