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Sliema pip Valletta to title in final stretch

Sliema Wanderers... 1948-49 League champions

Sliema Wanderers... 1948-49 League champions

1948 was an interesting and busy year for Maltese football.

The Forties were a time of change. The organisation of the game was moving forward at a fast pace and the league was already taking the shape it has today.

In 1948-49, the league campaign was one of the most interesting of the post-war period. Before the start of the competition, Valletta and Hamrun Spartans were rated favourites to win the championship.

Valletta beat Sliema 1-0 in the opening match but Hamrun lost 3-2 against Floriana. The Spartans made up for this disappointment with a 4-2 victory over St George's. The Saints were not outplayed but they found it hard to cope with the fast pace of the First Division.

Two fatal slips in the space of a minute by fullback Demicoli gave Hibs a 2-0 victory over Valletta. Then, on Saturday November 14, Valletta recovered somewhat from this setback with a 5-2 victory over Naxxar.

Hibs' early season form continued with a 1-1 draw against Floriana. Thousands of spectators saw the Paolites stretch the much-fancied Floriana side to the limit before relinquishing their lead after a late penalty.

The fight at the top of the table intensified on November 28 when Valletta took on Floriana. The Whites were already leading 3-0 after ten minutes but a gallant effort saw the Greens pulling back two goals by the end of the 90 minutes.

The weekend of January 29 and 30 yielded a new twist to the championship race. On Saturday, Valletta consolidated their position at the top with an easy 4-0 victory over Luqa St Andrew's and the following day, Sliema, displaying devastating form, annihilated Hibernians 6-2.

At the start of the second round, Valletta took a clear three-point lead over their nearest rivals. On February 12, they defeated Sliema 3-0 in a thrilling encounter. The next day Floriana did Valletta a favour by holding Hamrun Spartans to a 3-3 draw.

At this stage it looked as if Valletta would run away with the championship but the fight was not over yet.

The turning point came during the weekend of March 12-13 when Valletta were beaten 4-1 by Floriana and Sliema edged Hamrun 3-2.

The following weekend Sliema moved even nearer to Valletta by beating Naxxar Lions 2-0. On Sunday, Valletta threw away a two-goal lead and dropped another precious point in a 3-3 draw against St George's. Valletta began to panic. Two matches were left for the end of the competition and only one point separated the two teams.

Valletta badly needed the points from their next match against Hamrun. It was a very close encounter but at the end, the Spartans managed to snatch the points with a narrow 1-0 victory.

The next day Sliema bagged maximum points in a lucky 1-0 victory against Floriana in which the Greens missed two penalties.

With this victory Sliema leapt to the top of the table, one point more than Valletta. On Sunday April 2, 1949 Sliema Wanderers became the new league champions for the first time in nine years. The Blues, however, were lucky to beat Hibernians in their last match.

Hibs dominated play for most of the first half and it was much against the run of play when Tonna opened the score for the Wanderers. Hibs fought back and Theuma equalised.

It was now anybody's game. Towards the end of the match, Nicholl was put through and scored. The linesman signalled for an offside infringement but referee Billy Mock allowed the goal to stand and the championship went to Sliema.

It was, to say the least, a controversial decision which naturally did not go down well with the Valletta supporters. One however, could not deny Sliema their success. The way they planned their second round campaign made them worthy champions.

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