Following Sliema Wanderers’ celebrations two weeks ago, after securing an early promotion back to the BOV Premier League, last Sunday saw a second side heading to the top division of local football.
Three points were enough for Naxxar Lions to secure the ticket for the Premier League with four matches to go and George Vella’s clan wasted no time in getting them with a 2-1 victory over third-placed Żejtun Corinthians at the Centenary Stadium.
A Ryan Cassar penalty right after half-time and a close-range effort from Robinson Blandon on 69 minutes put Naxxar on solid footing towards achieving their target but Rafael de Fex kept Żejtun in the match with an 81st minute goal. However, it was a deserved win for Naxxar, who had been the more dominant side throughout the affair, and a lively celebration for the mass of supporters who made their way to the stadium to stand behind their team from the stands.
Speaking to the Times of Malta after their victory, coach Vella emphasised that this achievement came to fruition after three years of hard work.
“This (promotion) means a lot to me. My staff and I joined the team three years ago and we have always planned our way and climbed step by step to where we are,” Vella said.
“This season, the competition was fierce, even if it turned out that Sliema and us made it. Sliema, a very valid side, even made it before us.”
Still aching for a pitch of their own, in a season when they lost their clubhouse as well, the Lions have put these obstacles aside and managed to win 17, and draw three, out of their 23 matches played so far.
Vella believes that due to the fact that the club had financial difficulties, hard work helped overcome this.
“This promotion means a lot to us because I know how hard the people at this club work,” Vella said.
“Our club does not have a big budget, so one would think: ‘how could Naxxar achieve this?’ We made it because we worked non-stop so that we could gain that extra edge.
“It is all due to the hard work and time put in by these players who have been a united group looking to reach our targets, and it shows especially when we did that four games early.”
Despite their limited budget, the Lions will have to credit the club’s scouting this season, adding to their nucleus no less than five players from Pembroke Athleta after the latter’s own financial troubles saw them drop to the lowest level of Maltese football despite winning last season’s division unbeaten. Added to that was the acquisition of former Gzira midfielder Clive Gauci, who has been instrumental to the side since joining over the winter break.
Naxxar face Tarxien Rainbows next, Żejtun’s main rival in contention for a playoff spot towards next year’s Premier League. Just two points away from Żejtun, Jacques Scerri’s side will be pushing towards leapfrogging the Corinthians in the remaining matches. However, Vella believes this promotion cannot mean that the side now relaxes.
“Obviously, we will now celebrate our achievement. But we still have more targets to reach, so we need to continue having good performances,” Vella explained.
“The performance in the match before this one, against Melita who are another very valid team, was one where the team showed courage and we won the match in the final two minutes.
“Żejtun, despite the changes they have gone through, have remained valid, today was another difficult match for us.”
Tarxien R. vs Melita 3-0
Żejtun C. vs Naxxar L. 1-2
Zurrieq vs Sliema W. 0-1
San Gwann vs Marsaskala 1-1
Vittoriosa S. vs Fgura Utd 1-0
Mqabba vs Marsa 1-2
Swieqi Utd vs Mtarfa 2-1
Attard vs Lija A. 1-1
Qrendi vs St Andrews 0-2
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