Qormi ease past Rabat to revive hopes
Siritto 9; Bello-Osagie 31 pen., 65;
Rabat Ajax 0
Qormi’s top-six aspirations received a major boost after Jesmond Zerafa’s troops put on a slick attacking performance to see off lowly Rabat Ajax yesterday.
The Yellow-Blacks were an enterprising side in the opening 45 minutes during which Nigerian Abubakar Bello-Osagie, Leighton Grech and Argentine Sebastiano Siritto combined to cause all sorts of problems to the sloppy Rabat defence.
The Magpies tried to battle hard but they looked a disjointed lot. Their key players, Heiner Backhaus, Manuel Fuster and Ivan Carapic were below their best with the result that they struggled to come to terms with the pace of the game and never looked like surviving the fierce barrage.
After the interval, Qorm pulled their feet off the pedal but still managed to stay in control.
Backhaus was duly restored to the Ajax’s starting formation after returning from suspension but still Rabat were down to the bare bones, plagued by a growing injury list featuring the likes of Nerijus Astrauskas, Adam Smeir, Ryan Micallef, Wayne Borg and Chris Schembri.
Matthew Bartolo and Luke Sciberras missed out for Qormi due to injuries, forcing Zerafa to include the returning Joseph Chetcuti and Alessio Cassar in his starting XI.
Qormi almost took the lead after just 54 seconds in bizarre circumstances.
Grech made headway down the right flank and his cross-cum-shot almost surprised Rabat goalkeeper Jonathan Azzopardi who somehow managed to block the ball on his second attempt.
But Qormi didn’t have to wait too long for their opener. The speed and techinque of Grech again came to the fore after nine minutes when he supplied a through-ball to Siritto who dispatched a low shot past Azzopardi.
Grech was at it again on 15 minutes when he showed sheer persistance in bursting into the area from the right but his mazy run was blocked by the onrushing Azzopardi.
Five minutes later, Qormi threatened to double their lead.
Grech again outpaced David Azzopardi and squared the ball for Siritto who seemed certain to tuck the ball home but his effort cannoned off the upright.
Chetcuti and Grech were causing endless trouble to the Rabat defence with their runs on the wings.
On 26 minutes, Chetcuti cut in from the left before playing in Grech who fired just wide.
Given his team’s difficult start to the match, Silvio Vella tried to shore up his defence by bringing on Patrick Borg for Yan Cauchi on the half-hour.
The Rabat mentor redesigned his back-four which saw Borg at right-back and Dylan Falzon switched to the other flank while David Azzopardi moved up in midfield.
Rabat were still adjusting to these changes when Qormi struck again.
Siritto darted into the box and went down under the challenge of Clive Brincat. Referee Chris Lautier quickly pointed to the spot and Bello-Osagie made no mistake to put his team 2-0 ahead.
Whatever Vella said to his players during the half-time talk worked as the Magpies took the field with renewed verve.
With Backhaus and Joseph Caruana asserting themselves in midfield, Rabat seized the intiative, forcing a number of flag-kicks from the right where they started to make inroads.
Former Malta defender Stephen Wellman made his first appearance for Qormi since August on the hour when he replaced the injured Roderick Sammut.
Moments later, Rabat protested for a penalty when Borg aimed a shot that looked to have been stopped by Jonathan Bondin’s outstretched hands but the referee pointed to the corner flag.
Rabat’s frustration grew four minutes later when a charging run from Bello-Osagie disconcerted their defence and the Nigerian midfielder rifled an unstoppable grounder that had the better of Azzopardi.
Little had been seen of Rabat’s attack, a low 20-metre shot from Manuel Fuster, that was repelled by Matthew Farrugia after 75 minutes, being no more than a token effort.
Eight minutes from time, Bello-Osagie was treated to a standing ovation as he made way for Gabriel Buttigieg.
And Buttigieg almost marked his arrival with a goal as he sent a thunderous shot just over the bar.
M. Farrugia-6, K. Thackray-7, R. Sammut-6 (60 S. Wellman-5), J. Chetcuti-6.5, A. Bello-Osagie-7.5 (82 G. Buttigieg), M. Gauci-6.5, S. Siritto-7, E. Bilbao Zarate-6.5, J. Bondin-6 (71 C. Farrugia-5), A. Cassar-6.5, L. Grech-8.
J. Azzopardi-5, I. Carapic-6, J. Caruana-5, H. Backhaus-5.5, J. Felice-4.5, M. Fuster-5 (82 K. Muscat), D. Falzon-5.5, C. Brincat-5, Y. Cauchi-4 (30 P. Borg-5), D. Azzopardi-5, C. Gauci-5 (78 C. Vella).
Referee: Chris Lautier.
Yellow cards: Brincat; Gauci.
BOV player of the match: Leighton Grech (Qormi).