Sliema to face Sirens in title showdown
The battle of the titans, even if on the mundane platform of the Winter League, may not have ignited the usual dose of pre-match hype. Only limited adrenalin was evident in the water as the Blues finally pulled away for a relatively close victory margin.
Whereas Sliema McDonald’s had a near full squad, with Mark Meli back but Jerome Gabaretta missing, Neptunes Emirates were without Jordan Camilleri, injured, besides also having to do without a couple of tailenders.
But, significantly for the Blues, they had Bogdan Rath in their ranks as the Reds had Sergey Markoch (back from last year) to guide them from the bench.
Two goals adrift after two early strikes by the Reds, Sliema recovered to forge ahead on 4-2 before Neptunes pulled back for a 4-3 scoreline.
With both sets of players basing their tactics on stifling their centre approaches, Sliema opened a three-goal lead on 8-5 by the half-way mark as they thrived mostly on breaks and superior elusiveness.
With Neptunes getting increasingly wasteful on man-ups, Sliema’s advantage kept hovering between two and three goals, with John Soler playing the scoring tune.
But the Balluta Bay team fought back to trim down the deficit to one goal after winning the third session 3-1.
Neptunes were still full of fight and it was evident that the difference between the teams was that of Soler and Rath, although Meli pulled the trigger with a vital goal for a 12-9 lead with over two minutes left.
The Blues then completed the formalities for a 13-10 victory, with Soler netting six goals and Rath three. Neptunes must have bemoaned their numerous missed chances on man-ups.
In the second match, Sirens Ritter Sport edged through to the final against Sliema after disposing of a fighting San Ġiljan Firetech who must have rued some scoring opportunities.
It was a closely-fought contest with Sirens always forging ahead except once in the third quarter. However, they had their winning card in the opportunistic Clint Mercieca, scorer of four goals.
The opening session produced a mere two conversions, one at each end as close marking and lack of incisiveness accounted for unproductive play.
Serving the centre with an inviting ball was well nigh im-possible and to make matters worse, approximate shooting did not help the cause of both teams.
It was slightly better scorewise in the second quarter as three goals were netted for a 3-2 Sirens advantage.
Marking remained tight and the absence of free swimming made for a dearth of scoring chances until two goals from the Saints reversed the lead before the northerners returned the compliment for a 6-4 advantage with Mercieca posting three goals in quick succession.
But the Saints were still alive and managed to level matters late in the game, through young Kai Dowling, before Dorian Pisani’s outfit forged in front once more through Jurgen Borg who scored the winning goal.
(3-4, 2-4, 3-1, 2-4)
Neptunes: I. Bugeja, N. Lanzon 4, E. Aquilina 1, M. Stellini 2, Z. Mizzi, K. Debattista, T. Agius, J. Gauci, B. Buhagiar 1, S. Gravina 1, M. Lanzon, D. Debattista, M. Pisani 1.
Sliema: R. Coleiro, M. Spiteri Staines, N. Lubrano, P. Privitera 2, M. Meli 1, J. Soler 6, D. Paolella, J. Spiteri Staines, C. Debono 1, M. Cordina, B. Rath 3, E. Meli, D. Abela.
Refs: A. DeRaffaele, A. Farrugia.
San Ġiljan 7
(1-1, 2-1, 3-2, 2-3)
Sirens: J. Sammut, A. Attard, J. Napier, P. Borg, A. Sammut, V. Bartolo, J. Borg 1, D. Cutajar, M. Grech, C. Zammit 1, L. Caruana, D. Zammit 2, C. Mercieca 4.
San Ġiljan: D. Camilleri, J.C. Cutajar, A. Galea 2, K. Galea 1, M. Borg Spiteri 1, K. Dowling 1, L. Grixti, K. Mock, C. Gialanze 1, P. Fava 1, M. Fenech, K. Schembri.
Refs: P. Balzan, R. Spiteri.