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Deadly Marsaxlokk add to Wanderers' woes

Marsaxlokk midfielder Jamie Pace (right) moves past Brian Said, the Sliema defender.

Marsaxlokk midfielder Jamie Pace (right) moves past Brian Said, the Sliema defender.

Sliema Wanderers 1
Marsaxlokk 3

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Lauded for their attacking verve and the fluency of their football in most of their previous six victorious matches, Marsaxlokk yesterday showed that they can grind out results even when their performance is below-par.

Confronted by a resolute Sliema Wanderers team adamant to reassert itself as a title force, Marsaxlokk weathered long spells of pressure but relied on their deadly qualities in front of goal to eke out a 3-1 victory.

Goals from Andrè Schembri, Daniel Bogdanovic, yesterday gunning against his former club, and substitute Haruna Doda extended Marsaxlokk's winning run to seven matches, taking them five points clear of Msida St Joseph who lock horns with Hibs today.

Sliema's second defeat on the trot leaves them mired in mid-table mediocrity and in danger of sliding into the bottom four if their Championship Pool rivals win their matches this weekend.

As Luke Dimech failed to recover from the hamstring injury suffered in the second half of Marsaxlokk's 2-1 victory over Hibernians, Charlò Magro received Brian Talbot's nod to flank Steve Wellman in the centre of defence.

The initial formation fielded by Edward Aquilina, the Sliema Wanderers coach, featured two changes from the one that started last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Valletta.

In midfield, Claude Mattocks was given a chance to strengthen his claim for a first-team place when he replaced Zdenek Svoboda, injured, and up front, Orosco Anonam was assigned a roaming role behind Ivan Woods, yesterday playing his 250th Premier League match.

"No to racism" read a streamer displayed by the two sets of players and the match officials before kick-off.

Eleven minutes had passed when Alex Muscat, latching onto a floated pass from Roderick Bajada, embarked on a menacing run into the box. With the Marsaxlokk defence in a state of confusion, Muscat had two bites at the cherry after Reuben Gauci spilled his first effort but the Sliema winger fired his second shot wide of the near post.

Sliema looked to have earned themselves a good chance to grab the lead when they were awarded an indirect free-kick inside Marsaxlokk's box after Malcolm Licari's abrasive challenge impeded the overlapping Jeffrey Chetcuti.

Woods's grounder was repelled by Marsaxlokk's defensive wall and just minutes later, Noel Turner came on for Chetcuti who suffered a suspected broken arm.

Marsaxlokk's first chance of the game fell to Bogdanovic who headed over after Schembri had picked him out with a fine cross.

Woods was by far Sliema's most enterprising player in the opening half hour but the Wanderers generally lacked the spark to prise open Marsaxlokk's defence.

Marsaxlokk's performance lacked fluidity in the early stages but on 32 minutes, they found themselves ahead.

Exploiting some loose marking inside Sliema's box, Schembri rose high to guide the ball past Murphy Akanji after a teasing cross-shot from Cleaven Frendo disoriented the Blues' defence and goalkeeper Akanji.

It took the Wanderers quite a while to regain their composure after Marsaxlokk's opener but, inspired by Mattocks's brisk movement in the final third, they improved to a point of dominating the latter stages of the opening period.

After Muscat had tested waters with a low drive that bobbled wide of the far post, Sliema struck an equaliser in the 50th minute.

Referee Marco Borg whistled a penalty in their favour after Woods was hauled down by Magro as he made a move to connect with Turner's cross. Woods drilled the ball into the right-hand corner of Gauci's goal to make it 1-1.

One suspected that the early occurrence of Sliema's equaliser would elicit a bold reaction from the erstwhile lacklustre Marsaxlokk but this was not forthcoming.

Bogdanovic and Schembri were rarely allowed a sniff of goal by the alert Sliema defenders whereas in the middle of the park, the likes of Gareth Sciberras and Jamie Pace toiled to match the efforts put in by the hard-working Roderick Bajada and Mattocks.

Yet, not for the first time during yesterday's match, Sliema paid a high price for their failure to exchange their territorial supremacy into scoring chances.

With 19 minutes of the game left, Marsaxlokk surged ahead against the run of play through Bogdanovic who, having been put through by Sammut, punished his former employers by tucking a low shot past Akanji.

Marsaxlokk now established a firm grip on the game and may even have increased their lead in time added on but for Akanji's save on the sprinting Frendo who had been released by the intelligent Bogdanovic.

At the other end, Gauci parried an effort by Woods but just before the final whistle, Doda, who had just replaced Schembri, made Marsaxlokk's win more emphatic when scoring with a dipping effort.

Sliema: M. Akanji-5, A. Muscat-6.5, M. Di Lello-6, B. Said-6, C. Mattocks-7, R. Bajada-6.5, D. Carabott-6 ('78 C. Nwoko), J. Chetcuti-6 ('20 N. Turner-6), I. Woods-7.5, O. Anonam-6, I. Ciantar-6.

Marsaxlokk: R. Gauci-6, C. Mamo-5.5 ('85 K. Mamo), S. Wellman-5, C. Magro-5.5, M. Licari-5, J. Pace-5, A. Schembri-6 ('90 H. Doda), D. Bogdanovic-6, K. Sammut-5.5, G. Sciberras-5, C. Frendo-7.

Referee: Marco Borg.

Scorers: Schembri 32; Woods 50 pen.; Bogdanovic 71; Doda 90.

Yellow Cards: Muscat; Wellman; Sciberras; Pace; Sammut; Di Lello.

BoV Player of the Match: Ivan Woods (Sliema Wanderers).

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