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Gritty Sliema land title

Sliema - 1995-96

Sliema - 1995-96

Today's story goes back only 10 years. However, I want to satisfy the wishes of a number of our younger readers who have asked me to include something in this column from their past. For this, of course, I don't need to go back too far.

In 1995-96 Hibs had been the reigning champions for the previous two years.

At the start of the season Hibs seemed to be quite capable of adding yet another title to their total. However, after a somewhat slow start, they found it rather hard to keep pace with the other title contenders.

Towards the end of the first round they were still in with a chance but when they drew 1-1 with fellow contenders Valletta they had to surrender to the inevitable and relax their hold on the league pennant.

Valletta were Hibs' chief opponents during the glorious years 1993-1995. This made them hot favourites to inherit the title crown from the Paolites.

They started their league campaign in defiant mood. A fine run of seven wins gave them a five-point lead over Sliema Wanderers.

But, when it seemed that the Citizens were going to run away with the championship, they started to falter. Two 1-1 draws against Naxxar and Hibs and an unexpected 1-2 defeat to Hamrun Spartans saw their lead reduced to one point.

Sliema did not fail to exploit this unexpected loss of form of the Citizens. The second round encounter between the two title contenders was the turning point of the campaign.

Valletta took a 1-0 lead early in the game but although playing with 10 men for most of the 90 minutes, Sliema fought back splendidly to turn defeat into victory.

This was the start of the Blues' revival. From then on they never looked back and, despite being hit hard by injuries to key players they won all their remaining matches to win the 23rd championship. This was a deserved honour for the most consistent team at the time.

During the first part of the competition Sliema were led by Andy Weavill. The Englishman seemed to be quite capable to lead the team to the title but then he fell foul of his supporters and resigned.

Sliema called Johnny Calleja to take Weavill's place. Calleja used all his experience to instil a sense of self-confidence in his players.

Ably aided by Mark Miller and with experienced players like Carmel Busuttil, Noel Turner, Ernest Barry, James Navarro, Hubert Suda, Kim Wright, Joe Sant Fournier, Ian Ciantar and Aldrin Muscat he just could not fail in his task to take the team to the top.

With Calleja and Miller around, the players regained consistency which was lacking before. Above all, they managed to add grit and determination to the team which finally took it to the league title.

At the other end of the table, Zurrieq were virtually relegated by the end of the first round. After a disastrous start Rabat had their first break when they beat their relegation rivals St Patrick.

Their hopes were further bolstered when the Council awarded them the points after lodging a protest against Birkirkara Luxol. Then they beat St Patrick for the second time to retain their place in the top-flight.

St Patrick had an auspicious start but failed to keep up those early promises. The Saints were hit hard by Birkirkara's lapsus against Rabat but they lost their status after defeats against direct rivals Rabat.

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