San Giljan made a bold recovery to put one hand on the coveted BOV Premier Division trophy on Saturday.
The team guided by Zeljko Kovacic – red-carded for persistent protests in the last session – should be commended for hitting back strongly after starting the last session 6-4 in arrears.
What a fascinating start to the series of play-offs this has turned out to be! Fortunes alternated with end-to-end play being the order of the day.
San Giljan put their hearts into it but at one point in the third session, and after they lost Darren Zammit to a red card, they trailed the Blues with two goals.
Still unperturbed as they came back, with youngster Jake Bonavia, the main architect of their victory with two late goals. San Giljan also had to thank a stout rearguard which had Jake Tanti pulling off some fine saves at crucial moments during the match.
After twice going ahead in the first session, San Giljan surrendered the lead to trail 2-4 early in the second session, Liam Galea and Mark Meli scoring the goals for Sliema.
Tanti provided inspiration earlier on, with some fine point-blank saves on John Brownrigg and Dino Zammit.
Nikolai Zammit reduced the gap to 4-3 but the Blues looked in better shape. The in-form Gabaretta extended Sliema’s lead to 5-3 by the halfway mark.
With Ben Plumpton hanging on two fouls, Darren Zammit was excluded with substitution late in the second session.
At this point, the question was whether Sliema would fend off the Saints’ frantic efforts to recuperate. A bullet from Jake Bonavia reduced the gap to one goal at the start of the third period.
Gabaretta was out on fouls with Sliema possibly missing the valuable services of their captain, but as superior as they were at this juncture, they hardly felt this handicap as Benji Cachia made it 6-4.
Just before the start of the fourth session, San Giljan coach Zeljko Kovacic was red-carded for persistent protests.
San Giljan, sensing it was do-or-die for them, staged a stunning recovery when Bonavia scored twice in quick succession to restore the equilibrium. Sliema fans were muted into silence when San Giljan eventually made it 7-6 through Nicholas Bugelli.
With just 60 seconds to go, Dino Zammit was guilty of fluffing a man-up advantage with Matthew Zammit temporarily out.
SAN GILJAN 7
(2-2, 1-3, 1-1, 3-0)
SAN GILJAN J. Tanti, P. Borg , A. Galea , N. Schiavone, R. Caruana, M. Zammit , B Plumpton, D. Tully, J.Bonavia 3 , N. Zammit 1 , D. Zammit, N. Bugelli 1, G. Vassallo, M. Ortoleva 1, D. Fero.
SLIEMA N. Grixti, J. Gabaretta 2, L. Galea 1, D. Rizzo, M. Meli 1 , B Cachia 2 , J. Cutajar, M. Mifsud, J.Brownrigg , J Gambin , Z. Mizzi , D. Zammit , A. Theuma, K. Borg.
Referees R. Spiteri, R. Colombo